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Virgin Islands, Big Cypress Reopen Some Areas Following Hurricane Damage

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Honeymoon and Hawksnest beaches at Virgin Islands National Park opened Monday/NPS

Walloped back-to-back by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September, two National Park Service sites – Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida – announced that some areas have reopened after nearly two months of efforts to restore access.

At Virgin Islands, Honeymoon and Hawksnest beaches on the island of St. John reopened Monday thanks to crews that cut trees, cleared access, and removed debris. Acting Superintendent Darrell Echols expressed his gratitude for the effort it took to get the beaches open.

“It’s been wonderful to see how park staff and those who responded to help have come together to get Virgin Islands National Park back in operation,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but today we can celebrate a significant achievement toward that goal.”

It could be many more months before full park operations are back to normal.

At Honeymoon Beach, more than 170 cubic yards of debris were removed with another 200 cubic yards from Hawksnest. The four commercial buoys used by boats transporting cruise ship passengers have been safety assessed and returned to their correct positions. Public mooring buoys will be assessed as soon as possible. In the meantime, users do so at their own risk.

At the National Park Service portion of Hawksnest Beach, dive teams did inspections for underwater debris and removed what they found. At the eastern portion of the beach, there is still debris in the water, so this area will remain closed until removal takes place. Visitors should continue to be cautious when swimming in all areas of Virgin Islands National Park.

At Big Cypress, recent weather conditions and slowly subsiding water levels have improved conditions. The Swamp Welcome Center has been restored and reopened Friday after Hurricane Irma’s strong winds drove rain into the building’s air handling unit. Recent repairs and mediation have brought the building back up to full operational levels.

Loop Road remains closed to all nonlocal and through traffic. Teams have completed vegetation and tree arbor work along the scenic road, but high water levels continue to make the road impassable.

General gun season opened Saturday in the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area. High water levels in some areas may require short-term trail closures to protect resources. Hunters and recreationalists must obey any posted closures. The Stairsteps Unit remains closed to all recreational access, including hunting. Due to higher-than-normal water levels, hunters are reminded that the taking of swimming deer is prohibited.

Monument Lake Campground remains the only open campground. The public is encouraged to find alternate camping accommodations in the area.

 

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