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Conservation organization against proposed Collier County parking garage

Most of the time, the idea of more beach parking would make a lot of people happy. But at a beach access point in Collier County, talk of additional parking is causing controversy. A conservation organization is fighting against a new proposal in the county.

Audubon of the Western Everglades is opposed to Collier County building a parking garage on top of the exiting lot at Clam Pass Park in North Naples to accommodate more people and future growth.

The current lot has 198 spaces. The proposed parking garage would offer 396, doubling the spaces available now. The AWE said the surrounding natural environment can’t handle the potential development.

Gaetano Cichy comes to Clam Pass to see birds, but he said it’s a balancing act when it comes to growth and preserving nature.

“My wife and I have been observing them the last couple of days. We’re interested in nature,” Cichy said. “It’s urbanism. It’s going to get more populated, more people that come. There will be less room for the natural habitat of the wildlife.”

That’s an idea representatives of the nonprofit AWE are opposed to in regard to continued development at the access point. They said it will compromise habitat of the sea and shorebirds.

“When there are too many people on the beach, everything is too crowded,” said Brad Cornell, policy director with AWE. “And they’re always getting disturbed.”

Cornell said birds like the black skimmer come to Florida, especially Clam Pass, to eat and rest for breeding season. But most of us may not know we are disrupting them.

“We have seen people with cameras running through a big flock to get a good picture,” Cornell said. “And certainly it does look like a good picture, but one person does that. Then, another does it a half hour later, and by the end of the weekend, these birds are exhausted.”

The county said park staff has conducted community outreach for the garage and are also considering AWE’s concerns. The staff will present a final report to the board of county commissioners for a decision set to be made in June.

To preserve the already declining population, AWE is proposing alternatives to the County. One idea involves working to disperse people south to other beaches and using AWE biologists to educate the public.

“So everyone gets a better understanding and appreciation that this isn’t just a sunning beach,” Cornell said. “That it’s a habitat beach that’s really amazing.”

Reporter:Hannah Vogel
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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