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Cayo Costa name change idea stirs opposition on Gasparilla Island

By Staff | Jan 18, 2011

A proposal to rename Cayo Costa State Park after former CIA director Porter Goss is meeting with strong opposition from Gasparilla Island residents and others who say it is inappropriate.
Sharon McKenzie, executive director of the Barrier Island Parks Society Inc. and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum, said BIPS will work to retain the historic name.
“I think there’s not going to be a lot of people who support it,” McKenzie said. “Most of the residents on island who grew up there, and people who don’t live on the island anymore but grew up there, that’s near and dear to their hearts. It’s an old name and not something recently done.
“I just don’t think a lot of people support it, honestly. We as an organization do not support it.”
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, set a town hall meeting Wednesday on Pine Island to discuss the issue. The meeting will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Fishers of Men Lutheran Church, 10360 Stringfellow Road.
Goss was a Lee County commissioner from 1983-88 and he secured commission approval to transfer the county park to the state ownership. He exerted leadership on environmental issues ahead of his time, said Dale Adams, who came up with the name change idea.
“It’s nothing against Porter Goss,” McKenzie said. “I know he’s done a lot of great work. But from a historic standpoint we’re talking about a historic name. Even though it’s a state park name change it’s still synonymous with the island. A lot of the island’s historic places are located in the state park.”
Opponents say the name change would be too costly and cause confusion on the island park accessible only by boat. Residents who for generations have buried family members on the island also oppose the name change.
Adams, a former state parks department employee, said he’d thought about the idea for a long time and decided to pursue it now while his residential real estate business in Tallahassee is slow. Goss has said any decision should come from the community.
Accessible only by boat, Cayo Costa State Park is located on an unspoiled, 8-mile long barrier island that is part of a chain of islands sheltering Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The 2,506-acre island contains unique tropical vegetation and it looks much as it did 500 years ago when the first Europeans arrived.
Cayo Costa, which means “Key by the Coast,” was named in the 1780s by early Spanish traders from Cuba who established “fishing ranchos” along Florida’s west coast. The Smithsonian Institution has identified two “ranchos” on Cayo Costa.
In the late 1800s, a quarantine station was established on the northern end of the island for immigrants entering the country through Boca Grande Pass. During the early 1900s, approximately 20 fishing families living on Cayo Costa established a school, post offic and a grocery store.
Cayo Costa’s main activity is fishing today with 95 percent of the island owned by the Park Service and just 5 percent owned privately. With no electricity or cable, and reliant on well water, the island remains an authenticly rustic getaway.
Within the park, 12 primitive cabins and 30 tent sites are available for overnight stays. Each cabin is equipped with a table and three bunk beds with mattresses. Guests must bring everything else with them, including food and drinks. Restrooms, showers and water are located near the cabins and tent sites.