On June 11th, Everglades Foundation board member Ellin Goetz and I had the privilege of touring the Picayune Strand restoration project located in eastern Collier County. Joined by our partners at the Florida Wildlife Federation, we saw firsthand the ongoing efforts to return this beautiful piece of Florida back to its natural state.
Before I explain the restoration efforts, allow me to share Picayune Strand’s fascinating history. In the 1940’s, two brothers from Baltimore formed a company to sell swampland for development in eastern Collier County called the Southern Golden Gates Estates. Buyers from across the United States and around the world traveled to Southwest Florida where they toured Cape Coral and bought land they never placed eyes on.
Roads were built and canals were dug, adversely impacting the natural habitats of eastern Collier County. When the development company went bankrupt in 1978, the state of Florida, along with organizations like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, began contacting property owners in the hopes of buying them out. Once this tedious process successfully concluded, a plan was devised to restore Picayune Strand.
Today, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District are working together as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to ensure the natural environment returns to this part of the western Everglades. The CERP is a systematic approach to re-plumb the entire Everglades ecosystem and will enable the proper water quantity and quality to flow throughout the River of Grass.
In Picayune Strand, efforts to remove roads and fill in massive canals have been taking place since this CERP project was authorized and funded back in 2007. Large structures are being built to pump water from the northern part of the property resulting in a more natural flow and storage of water across the landscape.
The Picayune Strand project is a tangible restoration effort that will improve the water flow and habitat from Alligator Alley (I-75) through 57,000 acres of Picayune Strand and ultimately into Ten Thousand Islands. An estimated $120 million is needed to complete this important CERP project that will improve habitat for the Florida panther, black bear, West Indian manatee and numerous other species that reside in this region of the Everglades. If funded, project managers estimate completion in 2018. Even partially restored, the environmental benefits from the Picayune Strand project, as well as other projects, are already being realized. Restoration is working.