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Working with skiff guides, anglers and conservation groups, Everglades National Park has revised its draft general management plan to provide more access for boating, fishing and paddling in Florida Bay than what it proposed a year ago.

The new “preferred alternative” for long-term management of park waters was generally well-received at a meeting of park officials and fishing guides Friday in Islamorada.

“I think this plan is going to work for everyone,” said veteran Islamorada light-tackle guide captain Dave Denkert. “We’ve got to go out of our way to fish certain areas. But I think it’s going to benefit all of our kids and our kids’ kids.”

Guides and anglers were upset last year when officials announced they favored designating about a third of park waters as pole/troll zones, which require boaters to use push poles or electric trolling motors instead of outboards. Fishermen said the zones were too large and lacked transit corridors to get in and out in case of bad weather or other emergencies. They demanded a compromise, and apparently got it after conducting numerous meetings and on-water field trips with park personnel over the past year for a New Everglades National Park Proposal.

The revised plan reduces the proposed pole/troll zones by about 29,000 acres, adding corridors where boaters may use their engines. It adds two pole/troll/idle zones totaling more than 24,500 acres — one on the westernmost side of the bay around Sandy Key and First National Bank and a smaller area in the central bay around the Samphire Keys. Boaters in those zones would be required to use push poles or electric motors, unless the vessel could idle on its outboard without disturbing the bottom while Saltwater Fishing in Florida.

The new proposal removes Long Sound as a paddle-only zone and allows on-plane access with an idle-speed buffer. It opens Joe Bay/Snag Bay — closed to all public access since 1980 as a crocodile sanctuary — to paddlecraft but not motorboats.

“We’re trying to protect the resource but provide reasonable and appropriate access, and that’s what you have helped us with,” park superintendent Dan Kimball told guides at Friday’s meeting. “We’ve really listened to you. We’ve really incorporated that a lot in our plan.”

The plan retains some of its original proposals — a mandatory education and permitting program for boaters operating in park waters and establishment of a citizen advisory committee to help park officials with adaptive management as the plan is implemented. Captain Tad Burke of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association said members of his group should have designated seats on that panel for a New Everglades National Park Proposal.

Guides and anglers at the meeting seemed pretty satisfied with the new preferred alternative except for a few suggested tweaks. But they told Kimball they are concerned about his retirement this month coming just as the plan is making its way through the National Park Service review process for final adoption later this year. Kimball will be replaced by acting superintendent Shawn Benge, now deputy director of the southeast region of the park service, on March 21. But Kimball reassured fishermen he’s got their backs.

Said Kimball: “I don’t see anybody coming in doing a 180 on this plan.”
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