WEST PALM BEACH – More than half a million acres of public land in the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) are open to the public for recreational opportunities.
From Orlando to the Keys, 600,000 acres of SFWMD land is open to the public and used by hikers, bikers, birders, air boaters, campers, stargazers and horseback riders, said Newton Cook, of United Waterfowlers Florida at the SFWMD Recreational Public Forum on Sept. 25 in West Palm Beach.
SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett said a revenue source that used to go into the general fund has been put into maintaining recreational lands.
“There’s a lot of restrooms in our STAs (stormwater treatment areas) that need to be upgraded,” said Bartlett. “We will be working on those this year.”
He said at a previous forum meeting, they heard complaints that a boat ramp in the Water Conservation Area 3-A would be lost due to a Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project. A new boat ramp was recently finished to replace it.
He said they are working on a recreational guide for hunters, birdwatchers and whoever is out there on how to use the STAs.
Park Ranger Veronica Kelly of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge said, "The refuge was established in 1951 and covers 145,188 acres. More than one million people visit the refuge each year.
“We are in within an hour’s drive of more than 6 million people,” she said.
The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We have the Everglades – well over 50 miles of hiking, biking and paddling trails,” she said.
Entrance daily pass is $10 per vehicle. Annual pass is $25. The refuge is also part of the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands pass program.
The park also offers some free days throughout the year, including Oct. 8 and Nov. 11.
This year, the refuge has been allocated six alligator hunt permits. The bag limit is two alligators per permit. In 2020, there were 11 permits issued with 18 harvested. In 2021, they had 6 permits with 9 gators harvested. Last year the refuge did not receive any alligator hunting permits. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) determines how many alligator hunting permits are issued each year based on their survey of the gator population.
Duck and coot hunting is open throughout most of the refuge. Last year FWC had 381 applications and four permits were issued. This year, the application process just opened.
The Strazzulla Unit deer and hog hunt included 2,592 acres. The season is early August. Hunters apply through FWC in May. This year there were 1,880 applications for the eight permits issued. Two deer were harvested.
The next coming hunt is the interior deer and hog hunt in December. This hunt will be open on 140,705 acres in the refuge. Application period was in May. She said 1,878 applications were received and 10 permits issued.
The Mentored Youth Deer and Hog Hunt will be Dec. 1-3. The target audience is youth ages 12-17 who have never hunted before. Completion of a hunter safety course is required. This hunt partners with FWC’s Youth Hunting Program and FWC HuntMasters.
“They learn how to hunt safely, legally and ethically,” Kelly continued. “They learn about marksmanship and firearm safety, tracking and processing game, and the relationship between hunting and conservation.
“Airboat permits are allowed in designated areas during specific times of the year,” she said. Non-hunting airboat permits allow access 13,900 acres on weekends, July -November, with restrictions during duck and coot seasons. Applications are accepted May 1-15. Ten permits are issued each year.
Non-motorized boats are allowed in the whole area. Motorized boats are allowed in the perimeter canal.
“We also have opportunities for freshwater fishing. There’s over 140,000 acres of water on the refuge,” Kelly said. “There’s also a 58-mile perimeter canal and 60 miles of trails for bank fishing. We’ve got a fishing pier and a dock – lots of places to fish.”
Bowfishing and fish gigging is allowed. Frog gigging is allowed July 16 to March 15.
Walking of leashed pets and horseback riding is allowed on the perimeter levee only. Pet and horse owners are required to clean up after their animals.
A new observation tower was built at the end of Lee Road.
For more information, see the Loxahatchee Refuge website at www.fws.gov/refuge/arthur-r-marshall-loxahatchee.