Town Council members are considering options to enhance Fernwood Park’s security, curtail loitering on Bird Island and more strictly enforce use of Fernwood Park’s boat ramp.
WINDERMERE –– For years, Bird Island has been host to underage drinking, loitering and littering. The ongoing nuisance recently had Windermere Town Council members searching for solutions during their April 11 meeting.
Discussion on how to effectively rid Bird Island and Fernwood Park of the unwanted guests and encourage use of resident parking passes ended inconclusively, but Town Manager Robert Smith said the town ultimately decided to take a multiagency approach to protecting Bird Island and restricting access to the boat ramp.
“The route we’re taking to better protect it is a joint effort between Florida Fish and Wildlife, the Audubon Society, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, EPD, DEP and the town of Windermere,” Smith said. “We’re working together to try and figure out how to resolve some of the issues over at Bird Island, not through security guards or anything like that at Fernwood Park, but just to see how we can better protect the sanctuary that’s out there.”
A multi-agency meeting held May 9 saw a discussion regarding what each agency could do to protect the island and add more 'No Trespassing' signs.
“We discussed the various issues that are out there and the option we have are very limited," Windermee Mayor Gary Bruhn said. "But … I’m going to meet with the Butler Chain Advisory Committee (BCAC) next week and ask them for support in putting in more signs. There’s only one sign left on the island because all the signs that were put in place are gone.”
Without a 'No Trespassing' sign, loitering and other issues are difficult to control. To complicate matters even further, the Town of Windermere has its hands tied when it comes to enforcing noise ordinances and the no trespassing policy because it does not have jurisdiction on the waters, Bruhn said. Jurisdiction belongs to Orange County and to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
So, Bruhn is pushing to add more trespassing signs and considering the option of designating the island a Wildlife Conservation Area. Bruhn also suggested creating a 'No Wake' zone or installing a barrier surrounding the island, however, he learned state laws forbid the erection any type of barrier, he said.
“In addition to that, we’d like to look at the option of creating a Wildlife Conservation Area, but to do that you have to meet certain criteria," Bruhn explained. "And the recommendation of the individuals I met with – FWC, Orange County, EPD, et cetera – their recommendation was to once again ask the BCAC if they would support an assessment of that island and how it may qualify as a Wildlife Conservation area.”
During the council’s preliminary discussions on the matter April 11, Councilman Bob McKinley proposed moving Fernwood Park’s sign to restrict access to the boat ramp, which is only allowed to be used by Windermere residents. However, some individuals access the island from other locations, as well.
“First of all, the problem is not Fernwood Park, which is a public park,” McKinley said. “The only access that is required to have a key or to have a pass is for the boat ramp use. We have a sign at the entrance to the park that states, ‘Residents only, permits required strictly enforced.’ … That sign should be on the deck. There should also be one over by Lake Bessie.”
Council members also weighed other options, including security cameras, the hiring of a security firm, relocation of the Fernwood Park’s signage, tougher locks, or smaller parking passes/stickers that Windermere residents would be more apt to use.
But getting residents to use the parking passes, which are supposed to be displayed on the dashboard, has been a challenge, noted several council members. Mayor Gary Bruhn also pointed out a second challenge: administering the proposed stickers.
“Last time I went there on Sunday, there was at least nine or 11 cars and not even one pass,” Bruhn said. “Not one.”
Contact Gabby Baquero [email protected].