New public park will protect Panama City crayfish
Lynn Haven, Florida — A new public park located along the shore of North Bay and McKitchen’s Bayou in Lynn Haven will not only provide public access to waterways and recreational facilities, but will also protect rapidly disappearing habitat for the Panama City crayfish, a species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed for federal listing.
The park will be bought and maintained using funds from the Deepwater Horizon National Resource Damage Assessment settlement.
According to a 2017 Species Status Assessment, this tiny animal, measuring only about two inches in length, is known to inhabit only a small portion of Bay County, Florida. The crayfish’s historic range included bodies of shallow fresh water within open pine flatwoods and wet prairies. Over half of its native habitat, however, is now developed or replaced with slash pine plantations. So it’s not surprising that for many years, the crustacean was thought to be extinct. It was not until 2000 that the crayfish was found again on what remained of its natural habitat.
“Since that surprising find and additional surveys, we’ve worked with partners to protect remaining populations and habitat,” said Patty Kelly, Service wildlife biologist in Panama City, Florida. “As members of the Florida Trustee Implementation Group, we found an opportunity to protect habitat as the state identified parcels for projects that would enhance public access to waterways. With this NRDA project, we’re getting an added benefit of protected habitat with an educational outreach component.”
The Lynn Haven Preserve and Park Project includes acquisition and management of a 90-acre parcel and recreational facilities using Deepwater Horizon NRDA funds. The park will compensate the public for some of the access and recreational opportunities lost as a result of the 2010 oil spill. In an ancillary, but very important side benefit of the project, the park’s design will protect onsite Panama City crayfish habitat.
In recognition of the crayfish and its habitat, the park will also include a giant crayfish climbing structure, a request made by the students of nearby Deer Point Elementary School. The giant crayfish climbing structure will measure 25 feet in length and will be located in a natural playground area. Community input into the park’s design was facilitated by the Trust for Public Land and Wood and Partners. The crayfish climbing structure was designed and will be built by Earthscape.
Some of the other park amenities are more traditional and include an outdoor classroom, a two-story screened-in bay and bayou overlook, picnic pavilions, and a disc golf course. Dock access to the bay and bayou will be provided for kayaks and fishing and there will be dock access to motorized boats on the bay. A bayou boardwalk, trails, and wildlife viewing area will include interpretive signage, including information about the Panama City crayfish. The park is slated for completion in early 2021.
The U.S. Service is working with partners, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to implement a conservation strategy for new and existing preserved areas, which will improve the crayfish’s habitat over time.
Nanciann Regalado, Public affairs specialist
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