Chair Tom Palmer and Conservation Chair Marian Ryan traveled to Tampa today to press members of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board to act expeditiously to preserve public access to the Marshall Hampton Reserve across Lake Hancock from Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County.
Access to that property as well as to another parcel the agency purchased from a developer for the Lake Hancock project and plan to sell as surplus are affected by the planned route of the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway. This toll road will cross both parcels to connect U.S. 17 with the Polk Parkway near the intersection of Winter Lake Road and Thornhill Road, wiping out an oak hammock containing a heavily used trail system.
Palmer and Ryan emphasized the loss of public access to the property owned by Swiftmud and managed by Polk Country would affect hundreds of people who use the property and its trailhead to the Panther Point Trail for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and nature observation.
Palmer added that it is important for Swiftmud officials to act while the project, which is scheduled for construction in 2023, is still in preliminary design phase. Once final design is completed, it will be too late to modify the project, he said.
Following the presentation, Brian Starford, director of the agency’s Operation, Lands and Resource Monitoring Division, said he and his staff would assemble a presentation for the board on the staff’s efforts to persuade state transportation officials to include acceptable access to the property in the project’s design.
Starford also forwarded a letter Swiftmud officials wrote last fall to the project’s consultants expressing concerns about the access issues.