After Ian, parks and trails across Southwest Florida remain off-limits for the foreseeable future

Public lands in Lee and Collier counties, managed by Florida and the South Florida Water Management District, remain dangerous enough more than two weeks after Hurricane Ian passed the SWFL that they will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Water District Chairman Chauncey Goss was on a helicopter Friday to survey the drainage streams and waterways designed to carry floodwater from populated areas like downtown Fort Myers to the bays and Gulf of Mexico.

“We’ve been working on them for several years to make sure they open,” Goss said, along with some help from cleaning teams. “By doing so, we have avoided some flooding.”

Floodwater has backed up in some debris-filled canals and streams, and water district workers are clearing such as the Ten Mile Canal, a 20-mile man-made river that runs south from near downtown Fort Myers south to Estero Bay. Then the workers will move out to clear the Orange River and the Daughtrey, Hickey and Telegraph creeks.

Still, debris on land and underwater creates such a potential for injury and disease transmission that Goss said Friday it was best to keep the shame away from the areas.

The Water Agency’s emergency response center remains at level one, meaning full activation even 15 days after Ian landed at Cayo Costa State Park.

Nearly all Florida State parks, campgrounds and cabin resorts in Southwest Florida are closed due to the often overwhelming damage caused by Category 4 Hurricane Ian. Opening times will be announced on each park’s website.

Floridahikes.com is advising outdoor enthusiasts to avoid travel to the hardest-hit outdoor areas in Everglades City, Marco Island, Naples, Estero, Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor, Englewood, North Port and Venice.

However, public lands administered by the South Florida District in Monroe, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Okeechobee, Highlands, Glades, Charlotte, Hendry, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties are open.

On the water

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns boaters of the life-threatening potential of all floating debris in canals, the Intracoastal Waterway, and larger bodies of water such as Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, and along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Lee and Collier counties.

“We have damaged and submerged navigation markers, displaced ships and other debris in some waterways that may not be visible,” said Rob Beaton, head of the agency’s boating and waterways section. “Please be careful.”

Beaton said boaters should remain in port for the time being.

If there is a specific reason someone needs to be on the water, captains should use extreme caution to slow down. A lookout, not the captain, should be in a safe place on the boat looking for floating trees, debris, debris, vehicles, other boats, and any other stuff Hurricane Ian lashed out.

And don’t linger in hard-hit areas where emergency responders are managing a situation. Florida law requires captains – whoever drives the boat is the captain; One does not have to take a course to earn the title – boating within 300 feet of any emergency boat when the emergency lights are on to maintain a slow speed with minimal wake, meaning the boat is only traveling a few miles per hour transmit a wave that looks more like ripples in water.

Captains with excellent local knowledge or familiarity with certain waters should act as if they have never been there. Many navigational aids or missing or submerged shifting sands underwater have shifted shoals and created new shallow areas. The splinted end of a broken pole can only protrude a few centimeters below the surface of the water.

Beaton also said that, more importantly than normal, the captain and everyone on board should wear a snap or zip-on life jacket at all times, whether required or not. Being thrown from a ship and drowning is the leading cause of death for boaters – if the person wears a life jacket, the chances of survival increase dramatically.

Boaters are encouraged to report missing or damaged waterway markers by calling 866-405-2869 or by completing an online form at MyFWC.com/boating by clicking Waterway Management, then Waterway Markers and Reporting Damaged/Missing Waterway” click markers.”

In water

For now, it’s best to stay out of the water.

Sewage pipes overflowed into waterways. Overturned portable toilets flowed into the flood water. Gasoline and motor oil leaked from partially submerged vehicles. Fallen trees have started to decompose on wet roads.

This is from Dave Tomasko of the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, the organization’s director. He saw all of that and more in the waters near North Port and other locations in Sarasota County when he was recently on the water collecting data to determine if the water is safe for humans.

After his tour, Tomasko said people should stay away from the water for health reasons.

“What’s in the water is pretty gross,” Tomasko told The Washington Post, which first reported his findings. “Our bays look like root beer at the moment. It stinks horribly.”

Since Ian landed on Sept. 28, Tomasko has received dozens of calls reporting overflows from sewage treatment plants from Palmetto South to Fort Myers.

The Post reported that Hurricane Ian left its mark both in the water and on land:

The storm’s winds and excessive rain washed leaves, organic matter and pollutants into streams and bays, signaling the start of serious environmental damage that could occur. Deteriorated water quality could damage aquatic ecosystems for weeks, months or longer and pose a threat to human health in the short term.

Images and video from space have captured the extent of the outflow.

“The fact that you can see it from a satellite is pretty impressive given the amount of freshwater coming off the landscape,” Todd Osborne, a biogeochemist at the University of Florida, told the Post. “That’s all the excessive rain that washes this material into the offshore waters… and the storm surge that inundates the landscape, kicking up loads of sediment, and then flowing back into the ocean.”

The Florida Medical Examiners Commission said late Friday there are now 109 deaths attributed to Hurricane Ian. 54 people died in Lee County and seven each in Sarasota, Charlotte and Monroe counties. Five people died in Collier County, two in Hendry County and one in DeSoto County.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by the VoLo Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to accelerate change and global impacts by supporting science-based climate solutions, advancing education, and improving health.

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