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Entries in public access (48)


Angling Advocates Pleased With New Everglades Management Plan

Unlike at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and, more recently, at Biscayne National Park,  federal officials actually listened to and cooperated with anglers in developing a new management plan for Everglades National Park.

“It’s hard not to recognize the clear contrast between the degree to which stakeholder input was considered for Everglades National Park’s GMP (General Management Plan) compared to that of Biscayne National Park, where the recreational fishing community was resoundingly ignored,” noted Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association .

“By recognizing that habitat conservation can be achieved while still allowing the public to get out on the water and enjoy our public places, Everglades National Park officials set a positive example that we hope other National Park Service (NPS) units will follow.”

The new plan  includes several changes that will affect recreational boating and fishing access and habitat conservation in the park.

“Covering much of the southern tip of mainland Florida and nearly all of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is home to some of the best recreational fishing opportunities that Florida has to offer,” said Trip Aukeman, director of Advocacy for Coastal Conservation Association Florida.

“Given that this GMP will guide management actions for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s critically important that we get it right. Overall, we believe the GMP strikes an appropriate balance of management measures to safeguard resources while allowing for reasonable boating and fishing access.”

Everglades National Park officials have been working on the GMP update for several years. After serious concerns were raised over the draft GMP and the potential for reduced public access to the park’s waters, park officials worked closely with members of the recreational fishing and boating community to identify ways to better facilitate access while minimizing boating impacts to important habitat, namely seagrass. As a result of those discussions, many significant changes were made from the draft GMP to the final GMP.

“The recreational fishing community recognizes pole and troll zones are an important management tool to conserve shallow water habitat, but these zones must be established at a reasonable size and with access corridors to allow anglers to still reach the area,” Leonard. “In working with the recreational fishing community, Everglades National Park officials modified tens of thousands of acres of the park’s waters to better facilitate boating access, and included 29 new access corridors in the final GMP compared to the draft GMP. The level of responsiveness of Everglades National Park officials to our community’s input is reflective of how good public policy should be developed.”

One significant change that boaters in Everglades National Park will experience in the future is a mandatory boater education and boating permit system. Operators of motorboats and non-motorized boats, including paddled craft, must complete a mandatory education program to obtain a permit to operate vessels in the park.

“We are pleased to see a cooperatively developed plan that protects our natural resources as well boater access in a balanced manner,” said Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of Federal and Legal Affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “While we believe that boater education is best administered on the state level, we appreciate the collaborative work the Park has done to include stakeholders in this process and we agree that education is the best way to ensure a safe and fun day on the water."

These comments are starkly different than those that followed NPS's announcement of its plan for Biscayne, which eliminated fishing and severely restricted boating in more than 10,000 acres of the park's most popular and productive waters.

 “America’s  recreational fishing community is disheartened by the National Park Service’s decision to implement a marine reserve at Biscayne National Park,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We understand the importance of protecting our natural resources and the delicate balance needed to ensure that anglers and boaters are able to enjoy these public waters. However, the National Park Service has shown little interest in compromise and today’s announcement confirms a lack of desire to include the needs of park users and stakeholders in important decisions such as this.”


Bill Introduced to Block NPS Plan to Restrict Access at Biscayne National Park

Following the National Park Service's (NPS) decision to close more than 10,000 acres of Biscayne National Park to fishing,  a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3310,  has been introduced in Congress to help stop this and similar unwarranted fishing closures from occurring.

Led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and 28 other original sponsors, the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the NPS and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing.

“Probably the most concerning aspect of the Biscayne National Park marine reserve decision is the total disregard for the fisheries management expertise of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association.

 “The states are responsible for nearly all of our nation’s saltwater fisheries management successes. This legislative safeguard will prevent the federal government from ignoring the fisheries management expertise of the states in these types of situations.”

Throughout the development of the General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided detailed recommendations to improve the condition of the fisheries resources in the park. The Commission has continually insisted that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public and will not be biologically effective.

 It also argues that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat.

The recreational fishing and boating community has echoed these concerns, but nevertheless the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing.

“The Congressional leaders who are sponsoring this bill are to be commended for this common sense approach to protect saltwater anglers from unwarranted access restrictions,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Biscayne National Park marine reserve is part of a concerning trend of closing marine areas without scientific basis or an understanding of the critical role anglers play in the economy and in funding conservation.”

“Marine reserves are a tool in the fisheries management toolbox, but too often we see them promoted with questionable-at-best motivations,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Government Relations Committee. “This bill will ensure that Florida has a say in important fisheries management decisions in Biscayne National Park, including marine reserves, and that similar issues don’t arise in other parts of the state and country.”

Today the  House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing to explore the potential implications of lost access due to the Biscayne marine reserve.


Historic Access Site on Potomac to Re-Open in March

Dock repairs have begun.

Shut down in the fall because of safety concerns, one of the most popular and historic access sites on the Potomac River will re-open in March, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

Still,  resource managers are uncertain how they will  provide a long-term solution to the siltation, which forced closure of The Boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove in October. At that time, NPS declared the dock unsafe for public use, two weeks before the end of the season, and an official revealed the agency does not have the money to dredge the cove and make lasting repairs.

In response to concerns expressed in a petition by the Friends of Fletcher's Cove, a coalition of more than 400 organizations and individuals, NPS sponsored a public meeting in December, and agreed to re-open Fletcher’s in the spring.

“The Park Service made clear its commitment to fund and implement a plan that addresses the immediate need for safe access to the Fletcher’s dock,” coalition leadership told its supporters, which include Keep America Fishing, Trout Unlimited, and the Potomac River Smallmouth club.

“The more complex long-term solution to the siltation at Fletcher’s Cove will require your continued persistence and support. The Park Service anticipates a comprehensive study is needed and will develop a scope-of-work as a first step.

“Our coalition must continue to assist with this vital effort to preserve the Fletcher’s Cove experience for future generations to come.”

Important financial assistance could come from the Washington, D.C. Fisheries & Wildlife Division, according to its director, Bryan King. He said that the city has funds not being used that are “strictly for boating access.” Consequently, “we could have a grant (for Fletcher’s) off our desks in a matter of weeks.”

One possible complication is that commercial activity is not allowed where federal funds are used, and the concession at Fletcher’s is a private corporation. 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.SS. Times.)


Senate Moves to Restore Cape Hatteras Access

There’s good news regarding the  restrictive and unnecessary limitations placed on Cape Hatteras access by the National Park Service a few years ago. The Senate has included the “Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act” in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.

I hate it that we have a federal government that puts public lands measures in a defense bill, but, hey, that’s the bureaucratic world that we live in.

Here’s what the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation says:

After almost three years of the National Park Service restricting off-road vehicles (ORVs) across extensive areas on the National Seashore, residents and visitors alike, especially sportfishing enthusiasts, should welcome the passage of this legislation and continue to engage in the process to ensure that a balanced science-based strategy with proper access is promoted moving forward. 

One of the premier surf fishing locations in the country, Cape Hatteras attracts two million visitors each year who rely on ORV access to the park for surf fishing opportunities from the beaches as well as for general recreational activities. Unfortunately undue closures implemented in 2012 for ORVs to culturally significant and recreationally important areas have negatively impacted the local economy which depends upon recreation and tourism.

The Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act would begin the process of restoring access to these important areas by requiring the Secretary of the Interior to “review and modify wildlife buffers in the National Seashore.” The Act mandates modifications using peer-reviewed data to ensure that only the smallest areas and shortest duration for wildlife buffers are implemented and that closed areas utilize corridors to allow access to surrounding open areas. Specifically, the Secretary, through a public process, is required to consider lifting unreasonable night driving restrictions, extending seasonal ORV routes, modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas, and constructing new vehicle access sites. 

While the passage of the Act is certainly a major step in the right direction, the language leaves significant discretion to the Secretary of the Interior.  Moving forward, the recreational angling community should remain diligent in monitoring and engaging in the process to ensure recreational pursuits and access are properly balanced with resource management.


Potomac River Public Access Threatened

In October, 2014 an official with the National Park Service declared the walkway to the Fletcher’s Cove boat dock unsafe for public use, effectively cutting off access to the Potomac River from publicly available row boats, canoes and kayaks. The walkway, which once floated at the lowest tide, is now grounded and compromised by siltation. Unless immediate action is taken, there is a strong possibility the dock will stay closed next spring.

The continued operations of the Fletcher’s Cove concession as we now know it may be at stake. To ensure continued access to the dock in the spring of 2015, ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW. PLEASE mail and/or email the NPS expressing your concern and asking that it expedite a plan to save access to the river at this location.

Mailing address: Kevin Brandt Superintendent,  C&O Canal National Historical Park Headquarters Office, 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100, Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620

Send your email request to  C&O Canal NHP Headquarters.

What follows provides more historical information and explains how we have reached this critical point in time. Please share this document or its link to anyone who will support this effort and also sign our petition to preserve river access at the boathouse.

The Potomac near its fall line has long been a cherished natural resource for the entire region. Providing access to the river since before colonials arrived, the area known as Fletcher’s Cove is a natural wonder within the boundaries of what would become the nation’s capital. Archeological digs have shown that Native Americans used this location to harvest and store fish and grain. The reliably deep water of the tidal cove also served as the first river access point for George Washington’s “Patowmack Canal.”

Early in our nation’s history, Andrew Jackson was rowed in a boat from this spot to fish for striped bass under Chain Bridge. After the Civil War the Fletcher family established a boathouse  which allowed every man to enjoy this unique location for recreation and to partake in the bounty of the “Nation’s River.”

Over a century later and now part of the C&O Canal Historical Park, Fletcher’s Cove continues to draw visitors of from all over the world. The park and boathouse there today are precious Washington, DC landmarks for residents and tourists alike.

Siltation has been a growing problem at Fletcher’s for many decades, and it is largely a manmade condition. Traditional agricultural practices and overdevelopment upstream have played an obvious role by increasing the sediment runoff. The cove’s problems worsened after the construction of Metro and the Dulles Interceptor Sewer in the 1960’s.  Excavated soil was dumped at the river’s edge just north of Fletcher’s Cove, with the intention of creating a more sheltered area for Fletcher’s Cove.

It was soon discovered that seasonal flooding deposited increased amounts of silt where it previously did not settle. The cove began to fill in at an alarming rate. In the early 1980’s a narrow channel was dug to improve flow, but it hit bedrock, often clogged with debris, and was deemed ineffective. Dredging projects that have been attempted only temporarily addressed the problem. The cove continues to fill in.

Not only is Fletcher's Cove an historic gem and a unique and vital resource for the outdoors person, but it is the ONLY access point for D.C. Fire and Rescue, Montgomery County Rescue and the D.C. Harbor Police from Georgetown to the dangerous Little Falls area. If access is closed off at this location, then response abilities to the frequent emergency incidents in the area will be severely compromised.

 To increase awareness, a coalition of river enthusiasts has drafted this statement to inform the public. It’s well worth repeating we need your help to encourage officials with The National Park Service and the C&O Canal National Historical Park to implement a solution that will maintain the boathouse and provide access to the river from Fletcher's Cove by next spring. Please help get the word out by sharing this statement with others and asking them to reach out. The following individuals and organizations currently endorse this effort. If you would like to join us and be added to this list, please fill out this petition to save river access at Fletcher’s Cove

Thanks to your support we have increased awareness. The NPS issued this C&O Canal National Historical Park News Release  announcing a public hearing on Dec. 17. Please continue to sign and spread the word.