Proposed update of state management plan for Myakka River State Park to be focus of March 2 meeting

Session planned at Suncoast Community Church in Sarasota

Shorebirds are a common sight at Myakka River State Park. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

At 5 p.m. on March 2 in Sarasota, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will host a public meeting to present its latest proposed update of the management plan for Myakka River State Park, the department has announced.

On Feb. 15, Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer informed the County Commission of the upcoming session, at FDEP’s request, he said.

No commissioner offered a comment.

The meeting will be conducted in the Activity Center of the Suncoast Community Church, located at 8000 Hawkins Road in Sarasota, the notice says; the presentation of the draft plan is to be provided at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is set to conclude at 7 p.m., FDEP’s notice points out.

A copy of the draft plan and the agenda are expected to be available online prior to the meeting, the FDEP notice adds. The material was not available prior to the publication deadline this week for The Sarasota News Leader.

In the summer of 2015, public outcry ensued after FDEP proposed allowing cattle grazing in Myakka River State Park. In one week, the Bradenton Herald reported, more than 1,700 signatures were secured on a petition opposing the plan. Jono Miller of Sarasota, the retired director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida, led the effort to stop FDEP. At the time, Miller pointed out that the park had “little of the fencing, water holes, or range land that would be necessary” for cattle grazing, the Herald reported on June 18, 2015.

The draft plan FDEP had unveiled that summer called for 315 animals on 6,500 acres on the southeast corner of the 37,000-acre state park, separated by State Road 72.

An aerial view shows the location of Myakka River State Park. Image from Google Maps

In December 2016, the director of the Florida Park Service — which is part of FDEP — was reassigned to manage a park, “rekindling fears over … Gov. Rick Scott’s administration maneuvering to extract more revenue from the state’s natural playgrounds and preservation lands,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. When Donald Forgione was appointed director of the parks service in 2010, he was charged with boosting revenue, the newspaper added.

Jon Steverson, who left FDEP early this year for a private sector job, had “pushed parks to wean themselves from taxpayer subsidies,” the Sentinel noted. Among the options raised again were leasing acreage for cattle grazing, selling timber and opening wildlife preserves to hunters, the Sentinel said.

Forgione was named manager of Paynes Prairie State Park near Gainesville.