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It’s grow time on Big Cypress Reservation

BIG CYPRESS — Heavy equipment and men in hard hats will be part of the scenery on the Big Cypress Reservation during the next several years as the community blooms under major construction projects.

“We are improving . . . at the same time we’re protecting the wildlife and our way of life,” said Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger.

Already underway are enhancements to the hunting and wildlife recreation area that includes a new restroom building, a shade pavilion and an outdoor shooting range built to National Rifle Association requirements. And just wrapping up is a monumental makeover at Billie Swamp Safari that features a new alligator pit, amphitheater seating under three chickee roofs and rustic walking paths.

At the Sept. 13 Council meeting, Tribe officials approved funding for a handful of other Big Cypress construction projects:  $558,000 for a golf practice range, $1.5 million for renovations to Billie Johns Sr. Ball Field, $1.3 million for a new social services emergency shelter and $3.6 million for townhomes.

The townhome project, on three lots on the corner of Eloise Osceola Street and Cypress Lane, will consist of three multi-family buildings. Two of the structures will be two stories with three apartments each. The third building will be a one-story, two-apartment dwelling built to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

Michael Shane Kelly, the Tribe’s Construction Management assistant director, said construction will likely begin in the next month.

“The townhome project is hopefully the first of many others. As one gets done we can add more and more units,” Kelly said. Landscaping and a small playground are included in the plans.

The 5,500-square-foot emergency shelter will be built dormitory style to house women and children in need. It is supported by the Family Services Department.

Improvements at the ball field will be vast, Kelly said.  Residents can expect an entirely rebuilt field that will allow better transitions for baseball, softball, soccer and football play. Parking and walking paths will me made over and dugouts, restroom facilities and a concession booth will be added.

Tiger said the new golf driving range, on 22 acres off North Boundary Road, will serve to support the Ahfachkee School golf team which for years has made do with a makeshift driving course at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena.

“I know I come here asking for money to do all these projects, but I just love my kids,” Councilman Tiger said.

Tribal elders, community residents and guests of the Big Cypress RV Park will also use the driving range.

The Council also approved nearly $600,000 for a 3,500-square-foot joint Housing Department and Public Works Department building.

“We’re combining two departments and getting more bang for our buck,” Councilman Tiger said.

Two other major and long-awaited construction projects on Big Cypress are in the planning stages – Ahfachkee High School to be relocated on Josie Billie Highway on the north fringe of the reservation and a new two-story health clinic.