Stories of the Swamp

Boardwalk Expansion

Friends of Fakahatchee: Dedicated to financial and volunteer support to preserve the unique ecology and cultural heritage of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and educate the public about its importance.

Boardwalk Expansion Project permit issued

Collier County issued a permit dated April 10, 2019 to George F. Young Inc., the engineering firm in Gainesville retained by DEP for the Boardwalk Expansion Project. Finally this meant that the engineer had satisfied the numerous requests “for more information” from Collier County. When Boardwalk Expansion Champion Tom Maish was handed a copy of the Collier County permit letter, he was dumbfounded – he’s been promoting this project for ten years!

So what’s next? Collier County’s permit letter states “Permits from other agencies having jurisdiction over this project shall be obtained prior to start of construction” and “A pre-construction meeting is required by code prior to the start of construction.” So, more permits are required to start the project.

On April 11 we were told by DEP that the Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is waiting on comments from the Boardwalk’s neighbors, the Miccosukee Tribe. This comment letter is required to issue a USACE permit to DEP Bureau of Design and Construction (BDC). Until this is done BDC cannot bid the project out for construction. Keep checking our website for more updates.

Festive groundbreaking ceremony kicks off Boardwalk Expansion Project

The roseate spoonbills appeared at the midpoint of the festive groundbreaking ceremony at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk the morning of December 7. Someone shouted “Spoonbills!” and everyone’s gaze shifted from the speaker’s podium to the skies above.

High in the bright blue morning sky, glowing pink from the sun behind them, a pair of roseate spoonbills glided in silent formation above the Fakahatchee. The words of the speakers at the ceremony were eloquent, but the silent presence of the birds above spoke volumes about the importance of the project far below them.

For the day, the abandoned road east of the boardwalk entrance took on a festive air complete with assisted parking, coffee, rolls, fruit, programs, display boards and shiny groundbreaking shovels ready to plunge into piles of imported earth.

Before the program, members of the Friends of Fakahatchee mingled with Fakahatchee park staff, representatives from other nature groups, tourism and local political officials and returned snowbird friends. The formal program was a testament to the coalition of state and local officials and dedicated FOF volunteers that was necessary to keep the project alive and finally get it off the ground.

One name mentioned by every speaker was Tom Maish, former FOF president and the man who championed the project for the past thirteen years.

“…a great success and thanks for all your work on this project and event. Very exciting for Fakahatchee after all these years!”

– Former President Patty Huff

FOF President Patrick Higgins welcomed attendees to “a momentous day for the Friends, the Park, the county and the state. He said the project, which includes safe parking, restrooms, a bridge across the canal and the park’s first interpretive center, “would have a significant economic impact on the county.”

Park Rangers Mike Duey, Guy DiGiovanni, and Steven Bass, Assistant Bureau Chief BJ Givens, State Senator Kathleen Passidomo, Director of Parks Eric Draper, Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, Park Manager Steve Houseknecht, Bureau Chief District 4 Valinda Subic, Park Biologist Mike Owen, Florida Division of Recreation & Parks Assistant Director Chuck Hatcher.

Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala told the group that “tourism focusing on the environment” is the wave of the future. “The enthusiasm for this project that the Friends of Fakahatchee volunteers expressed was beautiful,” she said. “I just opened the door.”
State Senator Kathleen Passidomo praised the strong partnership between the park service and the FOF. She said she was convinced of the need for improvements when she saw people trying to cross US 41 on foot from the existing parking lot on the other side of the road. When she discussed the project with the Friends, she said she was “blown away” by the plan, asking “how much do you need?”

One name mentioned by every speaker was Tom Maish, former FOF president and the man who championed the project for the past thirteen years.

Patrick Higgins, Francine Stevens, Collier Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jack Wert, Tom Maish, Visitors Bureau PR & Communications Manager JoNell Modys.

Keynote speaker Eric Draper, director of the Florida Park System, told attendees “look around at this remarkable state park. That’s the real keynote today.” After praising the contributions of Tom and Judy Maish at Corkscrew Swamp and the Fakahatchee, he told the group “we walk in the footsteps of other leaders like Mel Finn, Nathanial Reed, Franklin Adams and Jane Parks. Without their individual efforts years ago, where we are standing today could well have been another Cape Coral…Instead you are laying more footsteps— building a place where visitors will be inspired to protect land in our great state of Florida.”

Moments later, eleven dignitaries lined up and grasped their shovels. As they tossed clumps of soil into the air, cameras and cellphones captured the symbolic scene.

Ready, set, go! Chris Whipple, David Corban, Francine Stevens, Patrick Higgins, Kathleen Passidomo, Eric Draper, Donna Fiala, Tom Maish, Valinda Subic, BJ Givens, Steve Houseknecht

“Congratulations on putting together a truly memorable event… The FOF is a remarkable organization and a template for CSO’s around the state.
As pressures mount threatening our environmental integrity, the health, sustainability, and continued growth of our Park System is crucial. Eric Draper and I have been through many wars together, and I know that he was much impressed by, one, the quality of staff, and, two, the turnout of members. Again, well done.”

– Former President John Elting

Boardwalk Vision Committee Extraordinaire with Eric Draper: Francine Stevens, Tom Maish, Jimene Rinehart, Glen Stacell, Eric Draper, Patrick Higgins, Kit Kitchen-Maran, John Kaiser, Bruce Bunch.

This billboard at the site of the groundbreaking ceremony honored those who helped make the Boardwalk Expansion Project a reality.

Big Cypress Boardwalk Expansion Begins

boardwalk_startsFriends of Fakahatchee Vice President Patrick Higgins checks out the silt fences on the north side of the Tamiami Trail at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. They were installed by the state to prepare for the installation of a deceleration lane that will eventually lead to a new paved parking area. The FOF, working with the Florida Park Service, have developed a multi-year Boardwalk Expansion Project to significantly upgrade the site.

A First Step in Creating an Interpretive Master Plan for the Boardwalk

by Patrick Higgins

Interpretive Workshop

Jennifer Rigby of The Acorn Group recording some of the hundreds of suggested interpretive topics for the Boardwalk development. Photo by Patrick Higgins

I was in downtown Naples for breakfast and the Martin Luther King Day parade when I recognized the back and the silver ponytail of Phil Fisher, my favorite local artist. He had set up his easel under a blue sky near the corner of 13th Avenue and 3rd Street South to capture, in his customary vibrant palette, a streetscape of stuccoed buildings, geraniums, cascading bougainvillea, multi-colored foliage and the interplay of light and shadow on the sidewalk.

The subject, as I glanced over the top of his canvas, was recognizable but not an exact reproduction. That’s not what a good artist does. He strips the scene down, creates something new and in the process reveals the essential hidden truth which engages the observer on an emotional level. That’s essentially what we, as Park interpreters do too, whether it’s orally, in writing, or through exhibits and signs.

Interpretation is not the mere provision of formation, but should spark interest, provoke, engage, enhance understanding and ultimately reveal the deeper meaning or significance of the resource. If effective it will make an emotional connection and elicit a response; that “Aha!” moment that will stay with the visitor, and perhaps change them forever, even inspiring some to take action.  That’s a tall order and doesn’t happen by accident. It takes planning.

Planning the physical side of Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk upgrade, with its new parking area, associated deceleration lane, proper restrooms, picnic shelter and a bridge across the canal leading to a multipurpose visitor center and whole new trail system over the salt marsh linking to the existing Boardwalk is well underway.

Kris and Jenny getting their feet wet

Kris Whipple (left) and Jennifer Rigby (right) of the Acorn Group getting their feet wet in the Fakahatchee. Photo by Patrick Higgins

But just as important is the interpretive planning for the site. On January 14th the Park and FOF took the first steps in a six month process to develop an Interpretive Prospectus by hosting an Interpretive Planning Workshop at Rookery Bay.   The event was facilitated by Jennifer Rigby and Kris Whipple from the Acorn Group, a specialist interpretive planning firm whom FOF have retained for the duration of this project. Both are expert NAI Certified Interpretive Planners with an impressive track record of successful projects across the country. Previously they literally got their feet wet during a very long day spent with Mike Owen, Renee Rau and me walking the ground, including a plunge into the swamp off East Main, emerging enthralled only as dusk was settling in. I think they’ve caught the Fakahabit.

The purpose of the Interpretive Prospectus is to flesh-out in sufficient detail, the exhibits, signage, visitor center contents, etc. to enable FOF to garner support and facilitate the fundraising for our portion of the project. It will allow us to go to the local donor community and show them exactly what their money will be used for. Part of the eventual output will be a four page fund-raising brochure. This will be followed later on by the development of a comprehensive Master Interpretive Plan. In this first phase we were focussing on identifying the interpretive goals, themes, sub-themes, and storylines for the expanded Boardwalk area.

As wide a spectrum of stakeholders in the Park were invited as possible. Attendees included Board members, Park and FOF volunteers, managers and staff from neighboring National and State Parks, Rookery Bay, The Botanical Gardens, Everglades Museum, River of Grass Greenway, the Visitors Bureau, Conservancy of SW Florida, BG Givens from District 4 Headquarters, the DEP’s Heather Shuke-Nelson who is in charge of interpretation across the entire State Park system, as well as Captain Franklin Adams, who all engaged wholeheartedly in the creative process. Jimene Rinehart did FOF proud by serving everyone an exquisite homemade lunch. So engrossed was the audience, she plated-up for most people so the flow of ideas was uninterrupted.

For part of the time we broke into syndicates ensuring each had a mix of diverse backgrounds or agencies. By the end of the day we had a wall pasted with hundreds of colorful Post-it notes scrawled with topic ideas and dozens of annotated chart sheets which Acorn took away to begin to crunch and organize into an initial interpretive summary, but not before touring other local relevant sites like Six Mile Cypress Slough, Corkscrew, Big Cypress Welcome Center and the Marsh Trail to ensure our offering will be unique. After the event Tom Maish, Chair of the Boardwalk Vision Committee, commented, “Gauging the reaction of the participants, it looks like we are finally on our way!”

Patrick Higgins is a National Association of Interpretation Certified Interpreter, Vice President of the Friends of Fakahatchee and Project Manager for the development of the Boardwalk Master Interpretive Plan.


Boardwalk Vision Update – January, 2015

by Tom Maish, Chair of the Vision Committee

Aerial of boardwalk

Aerial photo from the Collier Appraiser’s website with old US41 and the existing Boardwalk on the north side of the Tamiami Trail.

It is with great pleasure to report that our BoardWalk Vision is starting to move forward. The Park Service has almost completed their plans of the parking area, restrooms, and picnic pavilion at the new entrance off the abandoned US41 site. Also included will be a deceleration lane to move traffic safely on and off the highway. These improvements will be funded by the Park Service!

The BoardWalk Vision committee sent out Requests for Proposals to begin the first phase of the Interpretative Master Plan for the route of the new pathways; design of exhibits and graphics that will connect the new entrance with the existing boardwalk. The Vision committee evaluated four proposals, interviewed the principals of the two final contenders, then checked references.

The committee unanimously selected The Acorn Group to begin the design. Meetings are scheduled to start in January with the completed report due at the end of June 2015. These plans will include a bridge across the canal and the final design of a “cracker style” Visitors pavilion with pathways and boardwalk around Green Heron Lake to connect with the old boardwalk. Exhibits and graphics will be designed along the trails for Visitors to enjoy the beauty of the Fakahatchee rather that keeping folks inside a building. Special emphasis will be on exhibits to engage children of all ages to learn about the wonders of nature – to lure them away from their electronic devices.

Our next step was to fund the engineering study by the George F. Young Company that will inventory the plants, select the sites of the route, and begin the permitting process with Collier County. The George F. Young Company has performed all of the engineering and site evaluation for the Park Service parking lot and restrooms. They are very familiar with our site and our Vision. This study is expected to be completed concurrently with the Interpretative Master Plan. Both of these contracts were funded from the Partnership-in-Parks Fund reserve that had been set aside by the FOF.

These contracts will allow the Friends to finalize the required planning and permitting to prepare to raise the funds necessary to complete the Vision.

Boardwalk Vision Report – May, 2014

by Tom Maish, Chair of the Vision Committee

The Friends of Fakahatchee are proud to announce that we are now offering familiarization tours for local and state decision makers. The goal is to invite these community leaders to the park where they will be given a personalized tour of the Fakahatchee Strand. Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala became our first public official to experience a Ghost Rider Tram Tour into the Fakahatchee. Glen Stacell lead the trip and it was very well received. Mrs Fiala next traveled to old US41, site of our Boardwalk Vision, to see the “picture window” into the Fakahatchee Strand. Commissioner Fiala was so taken that she wrote a glowing article about the beauty of the Fakahatchee which appeared in the Marco and Naples newspapers after her visit in mid- April. What a great first step!

On April 23rd the Boardwalk Vision committee listened to a presentation on the benefits of hiring an Interpretative Master Planner to complete planning of graphics and displays for the Boardwalk Vision site. Board member Patrick Higgins had been a student of Kris Whipple, National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Certified Interpretative Trainer, and asked Kris to explain the reasons, benefits, and process of using Interpretative Master Planners. A Master Interpretative Plan will tie together all the individual pieces of our vision that the Friends have been formulating. Kris gave such a compelling presentation on what the Friends could expect from proper planning that committee members Jimene Rinehart and John Kaiser offered to fund the consulting fee to prepare a scope of work and pursue Requests For Proposals (RFP) for our project. This request to send out RFPs will now be presented to the FOF Board for approval. Sending out RFPs, reviewing the responses, and selecting a planning firm will take several months. Then the actual planning process may take an additional 6 to 12 months. With this completed plan, our Boardwalk Vision will be ready to reveal to the public.

Boardwalk Vision Report – April, 2014

by Tom Maish, Chair of the Vision Committee

In February the Friends had an appointment at the Park with Carmen Monroy, Director Southwest District, and Mark Clark, Access Engineer, both from Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
After seeing the traffic and parking along side of US-41 they had a clear understanding of our concern.
The Friends’ objective at the meeting was to demonstrate the need for FDOT to design, fund, and construct the decal lane, thereby saving the Park Service the estimated cost of $1.0 million!
All requests to FDOT are first required to be approved by the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Mrs. Monroy then suggested she would set a meeting for the Friends’ to explain the proposal to Ms. Lucilla Ayer, Executive Director of the MPO. Coincidently the meeting occurred on the same day as the meeting with Donald Forgione and Staff at District Four. We split our committee with Francine leading the delegation to District HQ and John Kaiser joining Tom Maish at the MPO meeting in Naples.
The MPO meeting was attended by Lucy Ayer and Suzanne Lex, Community Liaison for FDOT.
John showed the Power Point presentation prepared by Patrick Higgins to lay the ground work for our request. Both ladies had many questions and some advice for us.

No promises were given, but Lucy Ayer told us to persist in telling our story to gain public support for our Vision. Other suggestions were:

  • to stress the unsafe conditions of parking along the berm of US-41 with people having to walk along or cross the highway.
  • tell how our construction of the Visitor’s pavilion will be an economic generator for Eastern Collier.
  • how the decal lane will improve the flow of through traffic on this busy highway.

John and I came away with instructions to gather more evidence to present to the MPO and FDOT. We also learned of specific
programs that could be sources of funding and that there is a real possibility that the MPO and FDOT will be sympathetic to our need.