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Burrowing owl supporters make case at Sands location

By Staff | Jan 21, 2020

Dozens of people met at the future location of Sands Park on Saturday, not to protest the possible pickleball courts that could go there, but how the proposed courts would impact the site’s burrowing owls.

Activists and residents alike gathered for the informational session/rally on the impact the new park will have on the official bird of Cape Coral.

“We’re here to save this park from being developed in a way that will affect wildlife. We have four active nests and some other ones we want to save, and they put a jogging path there that will collapse those burrows,” said activist Carl Veaux. “We’ve talked to the city council on this and will talk with them again.”

Randy Landers, president of the Southwest Cape Coral Action Committee, said the main idea is to bring awareness to the people, for them to step up and do the right thing to save the owls, a threatened species.

“There will be a burrow or two where the pickleball courts will be. We want the city to remediate and do the right thing,” Landers said. “We’d like them to build starter burrows in other areas of the park and to work the paths between the burrows.”

Landers said the rally, held at the sign for the future Sands Park, was not about what will go there, but about how to properly treat the owls.

Pascha Donaldson, vice president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, said she was pleased people approved the $60 million GO Bond for parks, but added the birds have to be protected.

“This is a time when starter burrows should be in full force in parks and government entities, in our front yards and in our schools,” Donaldson said. “We shouldn’t be collapsing burrows. Our builders do enough of that.”

“We need to learn to live in harmony with our wildlife friends, not to destroy them,” Donaldson said. “Take action. Complacency is not an option.”

Yolanda Olsen, director of the SWCCAC, talked about the layout of the park and the city’s project plan.

“They’re tweaking their plan now and we’re asking them to tweak around the burrows,” Olsen said. “Now is the time to make your voices heard because it’s much cheaper to tweak now than later.”

Much of the layout will be at the front end of the part. As much as 70 percent of the park will be open space, Olsen said. Jogging paths and fitness stations will be in the remaining area of the park, with five burrows in the area.

There were a lot of questions asked by residents about the owls, with very little about the proposed pickleball courts which was a hot-button issue initially.

Among those answering questions was the consulting firm, Passarella & Associates, which is working with the city on the design.

Donaldson said he didn’t expect to be able to save all the burrows, but that they could save most of them.

“We want to live cohesively with the owls. Wildlife and humans can live together, you just need to do it smartly,” Donaldson said.

Olsen said she was pleased by how the neighborhood responded to an event that came up a few days in advance.

“I was happy with the turnout we had and it was great we had people from the consulting firm who need to make decisions on rearranging the amenities to accommodate the existing burrows,” Olsen said. “The consultants have brought to me another plan where they have the burrows on the map so, I think they’re paying attention.”

Donaldson asked if you have nature in our parks, why are we removing the nature?

“It’s enough with building homes and commercial to remove wildlife that we shouldn’t remove them from parks for us to enjoy,” Donaldson said. “Work around what’s there already. Save what you can save with some thinking outside the box.”