LIVE OAK, Fla. – For the first time in its history, Suwannee River State Park closed due to overcrowded conditions due to the large turnout for a Sabal Trail pipeline protest Saturday, according to Park Manager Craig Liney.
Park officials allowed 95 cars in before shutting its gates. Cars could then park on the highway and protesters could either walk or be shuttled in.
Hundreds of protestors gathered, many with signs and musical instruments, to protest the pipeline project.
Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. has said the pipeline will extend 465 miles from Alexander City, Ala., to Orlando, Fla. The pipeline will pass through Clyattville.
The pipeline path crosses both the Withlacoochee River in Lowndes County and the Santa Fe River in North Florida.
Laurie McGee, from Miami, was one of the protestors who found herself in Suwannee Saturday, chanting “mniwicioni,” meaning “water is life” in the Lakota language, she said.
“I am here to help stop this pipeline,” McGee said. “I was at Standing Rock for six weeks. I have four children and I want to save their futures. Their lives are in jeopardy and the entire nation's children are at risk.”
After gathering, the protestors marched just under two miles to a sit-in location where Florida Highway Patrol, Suwannee County Fire and Rescue, Suwannee Sheriff's Office and Florida Wildlife Commission waited.
“We are trying to protect peaceful protest rights and make sure everyone is safe,” Suwannee Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Ron Colvin said. “We always take precautions in anything we do. This is the first big protest and there have been several smaller ones, and we've never had any major incidents.”
In front of the officers, protestors, some of whom were chained to each other, stood or sat on the road, chanting and waving signs.
The protest still remained peaceful as of 3 p.m. Saturday with many demonstrators planning to stay the night.
Desiree Carver is Lifestyles Editor at the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be reached at (229) 375-5777.