One of the enduring topics of debate in NPS circles in recent years has been Off-road vehicle (ORV) use in Big Cypress National Preserve. The park reached an important
milestone with the announcement that "dispersed" ORV use in the area would end on July 22, 2011.
The change has been a long time coming; it's the culmination of a process than began over ten years ago with the development on an off-road vehicle plan for the original portion of the preserve, which covers approximately 580,000 acres. The planning process relied heavily upon input from a citizen-based ORV advisory committee, established in 2007.
What does this change mean for ORV users and the park?
According to a park spokesperson, "As of July 22, Off-road vehicles will may only use designated trail routes within any of the preserve units open to ORV access."
"This historic measure comes after the preserve selected and marked ORV trails within the Corn Dance Unit. Until May of this year, the Corn Dance unit was the last unit within the original preserve where dispersed ORV use was authorized. ORV use has long been a traditional form of accessing remote areas of the swamp. Eliminating dispersed use and implementing designated trails is an important step that will protect resources while allowing sustainable traditional access to the area as required by law."
Readers who aren't familiar with the Preserve or the history of ORV use in the area may be a wondering about the apparent emphasis of that activity in an NPS area. The park website offers a bit of clarification:
"Nearly impossible to reach by foot, generations explored remote areas of the preserve by homemade airboats or swamp buggies. Today, people enjoy this traditional activity along an extensive trail system by obtaining permits for a variety of allowed vehicles."
"Off-road vehicle (ORV) operation within the authorized speed limit on designated trails for hunting, fishing, frogging, camping, wildlife observation, transportation to private property, and other traditional nature based activities is consistent with the Big Cypress National Preserve enabling legislation and the Addition Act, and are authorized in the Preserve."
All ORV access into the preserve is by permit only. The free operator's permits are valid for a calendar year. Each ORV requires an annual vehicle permit, and must pass an inspection every three years. Details about ORV access, rules and regulations in the park are available at this link.
ORV management at Big Cypress has been a challenging process for all parties, and despite this week's announcement, there's more work to be done. As reported in the Traveler earlier this year, one of the latest points of contention has been the ORV plan for parts of the preserve known as the Addition lands. Those areas are not covered by the newly implemented designated trail system in the original portions of the park.