LIVE OAK, Fla. – For the first time in its history, Suwannee River State Park in Florida closed due to overcrowding after hundreds turned out 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 protesters gathered, many with signs and musical instruments to protest the pipeline project.
Houston-based Spectra Energy Corporation has said the pipeline will extend 465 miles from Anniston, Alabama, to Orlando, Florida.
The pipeline path crosses both the Withlacoochee River in Lowndes County, Georgia and the Santa Fe River in North Florida. According to a press release from Spectra Energy, the pipeline is 85 percent complete.
Laurie McGee, from Miami, was one of the protesters who found herself in Suwannee Saturday, chanting “mniwicioni,” meaning “water is life” in the Lakota language, she said. McGee participated in protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.
“I am here to help stop this pipeline,” McGee said. “I was at Standing Rock (Indian Reservation in North Dakota) 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, protesters, 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.
Carver writes for the Valdosta, Georgia Daily Times.