COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - Today trails inside the Big Cypress National Preserve finally opened back up to the public, after nearly 40,000 acres burned in a wildfire in May. Many of the 150 private hunting camps got away with no damage during the Jarhead fire, but others weren't as lucky, and now people are finding it nearly impossible to rebuild.
"This is one of the milder trails," camp owner Lyle McCandless says as he's jerked back and forth on a swamp buggy.
It takes over an hour, passing numerous burned patches of forest, before we finally make it to McCandless' private hunting camp. His is luckily still standing.
"If that fire had jumped across this trail here and gotten into these palmettos, and gotten into the cypress there, that's when it dawned on us that we could have gotten in trouble," McCandless says, pointing to how close the fire came to his camp.
Others did not fare as well. WINK News received pictures of a fellow hunting camp lost in the Jarhead fire. To rebuild, one would think the only issue is how to haul out the supplies. Not so, according to McCandless.
"They are running into a situation, the same as if they were building a million dollar home on a golf course in Naples."
The state considers these camps single family homes and permits are required. The 150 camps range from run down shacks to elaborate structures. Site owners argue the permit process is unnecessary, since they only use the camps 10 percent of the year, and don't rely on county utilities. There's no streets, no water, and no electricity that isn't generator driven.
County commissioners are behind the camp site owners' push to change the permitting process, and essentially change state laws.
Commissioner Jim Coletta tells WINK News, "You have people so removed, some as far as four hours from the nearest road. How are you going to be able to find any kind of reason or justification to police something like that?"
Coletta says he and the other commissioners will be discussing how they plan to approach the state legislature at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday.