A multitude of concerned citizens attended the October 25, 2022 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting to voice their concerns over the recreational development of the Weekiwachee Preserve. Ultimately, the board agreed to move forward by consensus to request a lease or property swap from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to use some of its lands for the project. The matter did not require a vote.
The Shoal Line Boulevard Recreation Project aims to install covered seating areas, hiking trails, and a boardwalk within the Weekiwachee Preserve, among other recreational features such as a beach area and kayak launch. The project is subject to funding availability, which has yet to be established.
The concept of constructing the recreational area is unpopular with a number of residents who want the preserve to be enjoyed in its natural state. A common objection to the County’s plan is that wildlife habitats will be disrupted and that additional traffic will create problems along Shoal Line Boulevard. One citizen who addressed the board on this day cited potential problems with access by emergency vehicles.
With the release of the Feasibility Study in September 2022, a “Town Hall” area of the Hernando County website was opened for public comment. The majority of the 218 comments that were collected online opposed the recreational development of the preserve. The number of comments in opposition was mentioned during this meeting, however, Commissioner Jeff Holcomb later pointed out that the number of signers represents less than 1% of the county.
The usage of the Weekiwachee Preserve is not a 21st century problem. A 1997 SWFWMD Preserve Management Plan that shows recreational use of the area has previously been considered. “It is the policy of the District (Board Policy 610-3) that appropriate public recreational usage of District lands be permitted, provided that the usage is compatible with water resource management and protection needs,” states the 1997 plan.
The 1997 proposal lists acceptable use of the area; “Permitted recreational uses of the Preserve will include hiking, bicycling, fishing, swimming, picnicking, birdwatching, nature interpretation, canoeing, and boating use by small craft that lack internal combustion engines. The preserve will also be made available for environmental education.”