Cayo Costa: An update from ground zero

October 28, 2022
By Guest Columnist

SUBMITTED BY CAYO COSTA PARK RANGERS

As many of you know, Cayo Costa State Park is where Hurricane Ian made its initial landfall. The damage to the park was catastrophic. Along with so many in our local community, several of the park staff lost their homes, vehicles, and personal belongings. At this time the park is still assessing the full extent of the damages to determine what is repairable and what is not. 

The only facilities that appear intact – or in seemingly repairable condition – are the ranger station, gift shop, bayside restroom and main gulfside restroom. 

This is only preliminary as there are still inspections to be done by experts and engineers; but the docks, entire shop compound, cabins, ranger residences and most other facilities sustained catastrophic damage. The power grid, water lines, well and water treatment systems all sustained significant damages also.

We ask for your patience and understanding as this is going to be a long and challenging process to rebuild and recover. Some of our staff will be reassigned or transferred to other parks temporarily, and the rest of us will be working hard to begin the recovery process. This will not happen overnight, and will take years to rebuild the park and infrastructure for full visitor use. 

The park will remain closed until such time it is deemed safe and we have enough facilities and infrastructure as well as staff to allow for at least some limited access; however at this time there is no estimated time frame when this will be. 

The first steps of this process are to make sure our staff and their families are taken care of, and that they have the time they need to recover in their personal situations. Once everything is fully assessed, debris removal contractors will begin cleanup and demolition of unrecoverable facilities and barging off debris. 

Remaining staff and teams from other parks will continue downed vegetation and tree removal throughout the visitor service areas and trails. The access docks, entire shop compound, ranger residences, and many other facilities will have to be rebuilt from scratch. 

The island is already recovering. Most of the palm trees are vibrant and green, many hardwoods are already budding fresh leaves, and a surprising number of pines are still standing strong. Gopher tortoises are wandering around checking out their habitat waiting on us to get more fallen trees out of their way and the shorebirds are enjoying the peace and quiet. There are manatees in the canal and alligators enjoying all the flooded freshwater lowlands of the island. The majority of our 572 sea turtle nests had already hatched before the storm. The native flora and fauna of the barrier islands seem more adept at recovery than we are. 

For updates you can visit floridastateparks.org as well as follow facebook.com/BarrierIslandParksSociety/ or BIPS.org for ways that you can help. 

Thank you, and our thoughts and prayers are with all of our affected staff and volunteers, local communities and all of Southwest Florida who were impacted by this catastrophic event.