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Pinellas County looks closely at popular boat party barrier island for environmental, safety reasons

Outback Key is located off North Beach of Fort Desoto Park
Posted at 5:14 PM, May 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-13 18:33:30-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Outback Key is a newer barrier island, on the north end of Fort Desoto Park, that’s formed over the last few years.

"It just keeps growing and growing,” said Lorraine Margeson, a volunteer with the Florida Shorebird Alliance.

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Margeson patrols the 100 acres of beach for five protected bird species and their nests.

“The wild wild west,” she said. “That’s what it is out there.”

But Outback Key is also the hottest sandbar party spot.

“It’s just off the charts. The place is like wall to wall people and dogs on a busy weekend,” said Margeson.

Hundreds of boats and thousands of visitors anchor here, some leaving behind trash and tents when the weekend is over.

“We see the dogs off leash. We see the open consumption of alcohol. Things that are currently violations of the park ordinance, so we’re not sure what the impacts are going to be,” said Lyle Fowler of Pinellas County Parks and Recreation.

Right now, Outback Key belongs to the state and county park rules do not apply.

“That’s exactly what the concern is— the proximity to Fort Desoto Park and its popularity,” said Fowler.

The North Beach at Fort Desoto Park is so close to Outback Key you can swim there at high tide or even walk there at low tide.

The county leases another popular barrier island with boaters, Sand Key, and manages it.

Now Pinellas County officials are looking into options here for safety and environmental reasons.

“It is a very big problem and people are loving this area to death,” said Margeson.