Swamp Wars

Beset by feds and environmentalists, the good ol' boys of Big Cypress National Preserve circle the buggies

Donahue counters he didn't lie to anybody. In fact he notes that he has made an extra effort to attend meetings of ORV groups, solicit their input, and invite them to lay out the trails. And he expresses dismay about the state of relations between him and the ORV groups. "[In mid-September] McCandless had expressed to me that he was pleased that we would allow dispersed use while we created designated trails," says Donahue. "I thought we were making good progress."

At the end of the day someone has to make a decision, though, and that's why Donahue draws a paycheck. He decided 400 miles was sufficient. "We tried to lay out a framework that would get as many people to as many places as possible while still protecting the fragile resources," he says. "Four hundred miles in a backcountry trail area is still going to be the largest vehicular system in any national park unit anywhere in the country."

That, of course, does little to soothe the nerves of people who feel almost like an endangered species themselves.

Gene Darst: "We might not kill much, but goddamn we have a lot of fun out here"
Gene Darst: "We might not kill much, but goddamn we have a lot of fun out here"

At the end of the meeting of the Collier Sportsmen & Conservation Club, the one held in the county commissioners' meeting room, McCandless flashes a check for $5475. It's a down payment to a "high-profile" Washington, D.C., lawyer who has agreed to take the case for ORV-users all over South Florida. They plan to file shortly after the new rules go into effect in October. "I once told [Donahue] this is not a laughing matter," says McCandless. "You have greatly underestimated your opposition."

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