Because the people of Dunedin and the surrounding area came out in droves to protest a proposed plan to allow recreational camping on Honeymoon Island State Park, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has decided not to go ahead with the plan.
“The message was heard loud and clear,” said State Senator Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, shortly after receiving a letter from DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard. “I’m very pleased.” He sent similar letters to state senators and representatives from throughout the area near Honeymoon Island.
In the letter explaining the decision, Vinyard said, “The Department, with the full support of Governor Rick Scott, will not recommend going forward with camping at Honeymoon Island State Park.” He went on to say that any future plans to change the state’s parks would seek more openness and citizen involvement prior to any decision making.
In his comments after learning about the decision, Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers said, “I am pleased to hear that the DEP has listened to us Floridians and the residents of Dunedin and Pinellas County and decided not to pursue their RV camping proposal. I am so proud of Dunedin and the rallying of support that was pulled together to fight the process and an ill-conceived plan. I want to thank all of our neighbors from around Pinellas County and beyond for standing alongside Dunedin, Honeymoon Island’s primary caretaker. Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Islands are the real winners as they can now rest as the sun goes down on RV camping.”
Protestors, City Officials Express Concerns
An estimated 1,200 people came out to a meeting in early July to let their feelings about the plan be known. Two days later, the Dunedin City Commission formally rejected the state’s RV camping plan for Honeymoon Island. They unanimously adopted a resolution against the state’s “proposal to permit the installation of a recreational vehicle campsite within Honeymoon Island State Park.” The city had passed similar resolutions in 1988 and 1999.
In 1988, the city opposed commercialization of the park in Resolution 88-25, which states that the land was handed over to the state for the “express purpose of protecting it from development and preserving it to the greatest degree possible as an example of a natural barrier island.”
In 1999, the city again opposed a state plan for Honeymoon Island in Resolution 99-19, which states, “the City Commission … does not support … further development and construction of commercial facilities in Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area.”
State and local official and a state-appointed citizens’ advisory group joined with the City of Dunedin and its residents in protesting the recent proposal to open 17.5 acres of the 2,810-acre park to provide 45 RV campsites.
Among the many issues that were raised in opposition to the plan were the impact an RV campsite in the park would have on wildlife, particularly the endangered sea turtles that come ashore to the Honeymoon Island beach to lay their eggs. Headlights from vehicles could frighten the turtles away from their natural habitat. In addition, the gopher tortoises that make their homes in the State Park on Honeymoon Island would have to be relocated.
One bird-lover said that some 300 different birds have been sighted on Honeymoon Island, among them ospreys, tern, plover, wading birds and great horned owls. In 2008, a pair of Bald Eagles made a nest on Osprey Trail in the park. Visitors must stay back 300 feet from the nest but can easily observe the nest. The necessary additional paving for recreational vehicles would clearly endanger the fragile ecosystem of Honeymoon Island.
Honeymoon Island Facilities Outstanding
Honeymoon and Caladesi Island were originally part of one large barrier island that split in two during a major hurricane in 1921. The waterway between the two islands is known as Hurricane Pass.
Once known by pioneers as Hog Island, the island became “Honeymoon Isle” in 1939 when a New York developer built 50 palm-thatched bungalows for honeymooners there. The place was introduced to the American public in the early 1940’s, when many of the popular cast members of the Wizard of Oz, including the “Lollipop Guild” of dwarfs vacationed in the huts to help publicize their availability on the island that was advertised to provide “undiscovered pleasures for newlyweds.”
When World War II began, the thatched huts fell into disuse, and the structures were torn down after the island was turned into a state park. The causeway at the end of State Road 586 was constructed in 1964. One of the island’s services is that of a ferry to Caladesi Island to transport visitors across Hurricane Pass to Caladesi’s world famous beach.
Visitors are able to swim, bicycle, fish kayak and canoe, or study nature in the island’s expansive surroundings. Shelling is particularly good on the beach. Two nature trails go through pine and mangrove forests, and pets are allowed in designated areas. The Café Honeymoon, right on the beach, offers stunning views of the waters of St. Joseph’s Sound and has become a great location for special events.
Honeymoon Island and the adjacent Caladesi Island attract area residents and tourists alike and are among the most frequently visited parks in the State of Florida with an estimated 900,000 visitors there each year.
There is a paid parking lot, a boat dock and picnic tables, along with a gift shop, restrooms and showers for visitors to use. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset. For more information on Honeymoon Island, visit floridastateparks.org/honeymoonisland/ or call the Florida State Parks Information Center (850) 245-2157.
Article By Marcia Biggs written for Destination Tampa Bay magazine