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National park reopening after Hurricane Ian; other parks closing before Tropical Storm Nicole

The National Park Service is reopening the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and marina, here seen from Chokoloskee Bay, after damage from Hurricane Ian was repaired
M. Collier
National Parks Service
The National Park Service is reopening the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and marina, here seen from Chokoloskee Bay, after damage from Hurricane Ian was repaired

Just when some national parks reopen after Hurricane Ian, other public lands are being shuttered due to Hurricane Nicole.

Everglades National Park will reopen the Gulf Coast region in Everglades City on Friday. Restrooms, parking and the canoe and kayak launch will be available once again to allow paddlers to explore Ten Thousand Islands and the wilderness camping sites.

On November 20, the national park resumes operations and will offer boat tours and rentals from Everglades City, and shops with food and merchandise will reopen. Permits for camping overnight in the backcountry campsites are available online or in person at the Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“We are so pleased to welcome back visitors to our Everglades City location,” said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks. “The devastation that Hurricane Ian caused has impacted us all. We are so fortunate to be able to restore these services for all to enjoy.”

The Gulf Coast area of the park sustained the most damage when Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida in late September.

What sort of damage Nicole, which strengthened Wednesday evening in to a hurricane, will do is on the minds of many, including environmental managers at the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Nicole was expected to make landfall in Florida on Thursday and its path Wednesday evening was forecast to move north of Everglades City, perhaps making things a little windy in the lower half of the South Florida region.

But from Palm Beach County northward Nicole is expected to bring Category 1 winds between 74 mph and 95 mph, along with a lot of rain and flooding.

The water management district and the Army Corps were either closing public parks and restricting boating access Wednesday evening, or preparing to do so, depending on the ultimate path and strength of Hurricane Nicole.

The water district has closed its locks in South Florida to boaters as well as public parks, campsites and hiking areas in Orange, Osceola, Polk, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades, Hendry, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties.

“We certainly expert hurricane-force winds and significant rainfall,” said Drew Bartlett, the executive director of the SFWMD. “Particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the South Florida Water Management District.”

The Army Corps’ recreation facilities at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam remain closed after suffering damage from Hurricane Ian. The recreation facilities at the St. Lucie Lock are closed, including the campground, day use area, and visitor centers.

The agency is taking a wait-and-see approach to its other public facilities.

On Wednesday afternoon, all of the public campgrounds and recreation areas managed by the Army Corps were open. But the agency said if any county in which its parks and campgrounds are located declare an evacuation for mobile homes and RV parks, rangers will do the same and order everybody to take their campers, motor homes, tents, vessels, and trailers and go to a shelter.

The Army Corps said it does not know how much water Nicole will dump into lake Okeechobee, but all the locks that would allow water to drain from the lake are closed.

As Nicole approaches, the storm surge will increase water levels within the St. Lucie Estuary and releases of water may be necessary down the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, but that will be to lower the levels in the watershed. The water will not be a release from Lake O.

With the water level in the lake already at 16 feet after Hurricane Ian, they are rather sure enough rain will fall to drain the largest lake in Florida of a lot of water.

“The potential exists that high-volume releases will be needed following the storm,” the Army Corps said in a press release. “The St. Lucie Lock and Dam will be opened as needed for flood control and navigation.”

Information for boaters, campers, those living near Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike will be updated throughout the duration of Nicole online.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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