Crews work to restore Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District are getting closer to restoring Picayune Strand State Forest in west Collier County.

What once was meant to be a residential neighborhood decades ago, is now the stage for environmental restoration.

On Tuesday, crews worked to remove the vestiges of the development, by plugging canals, removing roads and using pump stations to restore the land’s natural water flow.

By removing crumbling roads, plugging canals, and building pump stations, these groups will restore the natural sheet flow to the drained land, and in turn attract wildlife and vegetation.

Picayune Strand State Forest is located approximately 2 miles east of Naples, according to the forest website. The forest can be accessed via Everglades Boulevard from the north, Jane’s Scenic Drive from the east, and Sabal Palm Road from the west, the website states.

“The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is actually restoring over 55,000 acres of what was meant to be one of the largest residential developments probably on earth,” said Howard Gonzales, program manager for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

The plan to restore the forest came after the planned development did not materialize. The overall completion date is 2024, according to Gonzales.

“We saw this as a great opportunity as a part of our Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to restore a significant portion of Southwest Florida’s landscape,” Gonzales said.

The project is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

“Humans live where humans live, but the nature needs a place to hang out. 55,000 acres of a neighborhood essentially for wildlife is what we’re creating here,” said Drew Bartlett, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.

“It’s going to be a great refuge for panthers, bonneted bats, endangered species, plus all of the wading birds and animals that we enjoy and really want to have a place to live and thrive,” Bartlett said.

Colonel Andrew Kelly, a commander with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,  said they are trying to restore Florida to its pristine habitat while also balancing the human population.

“Everybody wants their slice of heaven,” Kelly said. “Everybody wants their slice of Florida and being able to balance the needs of both the environment and the human population is just tricky.”

Once finished, animals can enjoy this slice of paradise once again while humans can soak up nature.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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