FDOT Closes ‘Buzzard Beach’ Boat Ramp; Cites Safety Concerns

Black Vulture at Buzzard Beach recycles the carcass of a fallen comrade. Now these birds have the site to themselves.

What was for decades the only public access point to launch a boat into Lake Hancock, Polk’s fourth-largest lake, is as dead as its namesake’s main diet.

Florida Department of Transportation officials announced plans earlier this year to close the unpaved, bumpy boat ramp that sometimes you needed four-wheel drive to exit as part of a larger project to improve the section of Winer Lake Road between U.S. 98 and the Polk Parkway. Safety concerns were reportedly behind the decision.

The move had been expected for years as Polk County officials worked to develop a paved boat ramp on Saddle Creek south of Lake Hancock on land the Southwest Florida Water Management District purchased in connection with the construction of a new control structure. That structure allowed the agency to raise the lake’s level to form a reservoir to replenish water in the upper Peace River, which had suffered for years from low water levels and sometimes no water at all in some sections of the river.

Nevertheless, the decision, which was announced in a couple of Facebook posts this week, drew criticism from commercial fishing interests who had been harvesting tilapia and other fish and until relatively recently had made up the bulk of the boat traffic on the lake.

The main problem is that boat trailer parking at the new ramp, which opened in 2020, is limited because it is located on a narrow strip of land between floodplain wetlands along Saddle Creek.

That is going to be a challenge because the parking lot also is used to access the southern trailhead for the Panther Point Trail, which runs along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Hancock. Recreational anglers and other boaters use the ramp, too.

As a practical matter, at some point the County Commission may be forced to come up with a plan to expand public access. The problem is that there are hardly any suitable locations to build a boat ramp to access the lake because the bulk of the lake’s shoreline consists of either wetlands or mined land containing a mosaic of deep pits and narrow berms.

Meanwhile, a planned recreational trail, which is still in the study phase, has been proposed to connect the Marshall Hampton Reserve and Circle B Bar Reserve. Its route would cross the area where the now-closed boat ramp was located.

It is part of a regional plan to create a trail network along the Peace River in Polk County and perhaps farther south.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.