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Officials Decry Continued Destruction In Forest

Officials Decry Continued Destruction In Forest

    Regular visitors to the Ocala National Forest know it is not uncommon to see areas that have been vandalized or otherwise negatively impacted by other users.  A decades-old problem, the issue has only grown more severe as the forest becomes more and more popular as more people move to Florida and discover the unique outdoor opportunities of the Big Scrub.
    This week, it was reported that a vehicle was vandalized while parked near Blue Sink, a once popular recreation area in the forest.  Blue sink is technically closed to use, but like so many areas, people often decide they will proceed where the rules say they shouldn’t.
    “Blue sink was closed by the agency due to safety,” said Carrie Sekerak, acting district ranger of the Ocala National Forest.  Sekerak, a veteran of the Ocala, has seen years of degradation brought about by irresponsible users, and Forest Service efforts to restore Blue Sink destroyed.
    On Tuesday, she shed some light on the problems the Forest Service is seeing with certain users, using Blue Sink as an example of the problem.
    "The great work (of) ten years ago or so was vandalized to the extreme.  The timbers that held the bluff that had been previously collapsed by vehicles was attacked with saws and lit on fire, exposing sharp bolts.  The improved road and OHV corral we constructed was torn to the gravel base by 4wds and OHVs , turning a road and parking area into a mud wallow.  The metal fence was stolen, presumably for scrap.  And the native vegetation planted to curtail erosion was destroyed by tires of those who want to challenge their vehicles by destroying the public's outdoor recreation sites."
    Beyond destroying improvements in the area, Sekerak said some people have taken to even larger levels of destruction to bypass Forest Service measures.
    “Trees have been cut to open the walking path to allow OHVs.  Now the restored bluff that families sat on with blankets and coolers once again serves as 4-wheeling challenge.  We closed the road in with heavy obliteration.  Someone cut a new road through Florida scrub, through the habitat of rare species and risked destroying sites of native Americans and early settlers, using large bladed heavy equipment as if it were their own and not all Americans’ property.”
    The forest’s location near large population centers like Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa, make it an easy place for outdoors enthusiasts to go, some of whom don’t know or care to take care of the forest while here.
    "Ocala National Forest is advertised on social media by groups for 4-wheel and OHV adventurists that have no regard for Florida's rare dwindling ecosystems to other like-minded groups, as a destination to come to for the sole purpose of tearing up Florida's remnant forests and wetlands for fun."
    Balancing the public’s access with land protection has always been at the forefront of the Forest Service’s mission, but when destruction comes to areas like Blue Sink, the time can come when the public gets shut out.
    “Blue sink was free,” Sekerak says.  “It made no money for us to invest for its maintenance.  Every time we restored the damage it was from special funding, grants, or donations.  It was done by Girl Scouts.  In the face of chronic knobby tire onslaught, we cannot repair the site to keep it safe as a recreation destination.  We cannot provide the free family-friendly sedan-accessible scenic recreation opportunity we have worked so hard, repeatedly to create, restore and protect for our public to enjoy.”