Everglades National Park Created (1934)

Everglades National Park is a vast wilderness (photo by National Park Service)

Everglades National Park stands as one of North America’s great ecosystems and parks, taking its place on the podium alongside Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon. But the Everglades lacks the grandeur of those other parks—which makes its creation and existence so much more meaningful.

            The southern end of Florida is more water than land.  Water lies just below or above the surface of the soil for hundreds of miles in all directions, originally from Orlando south.  The area was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before the Spanish came and spread diseases that wiped out the original inhabitants.  Later, other Indian groups, most notably Seminoles, were forced south to live there, but never in large numbers or widely dispersed.

            In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that anyone thought twice about the area we now call the Everglades.  It was a swamp, and swamps were useless, breeding sites for noxious insects, reptiles and plants.  “A swamp is a swamp,” said famous park developer Frederick Law Olmstead .  As coastal development accelerated, so did attempts to drain the edges of the swamp and divert water into canals.  Much of the swamp was transformed, becoming agricultural lands that fed the Florida economy.

Some folks began to appreciate the huge swamp for what it was—a biodiversity miracle. Vast quantities of wildlife lived in the swamp. And the variety—more than 360 bird species winter there—was astounding. The Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, led by May Mann Jennings, wife of the Florida governor, persuaded the U.S. to create the small Royal Palm National Park in 1916. The federation managed the park until 1947.

            But things really started moving when a young landscape architect, Ernest Cole, moved to Miami in 1925.  He was an outdoor enthusiast and was immediately entranced by the nearby wetlands.  He began lobbying Stephen Mather, the first National Park Service Director, to create a big park (learn more about Mather here).  Cole’s persistence has earned him the nickname, “Father of the Everglades.” But the park wasn’t a scenic masterpiece like the popular western park.  Not until a delegation of officials took a blimp ride (yes, in the Goodyear Blimp!) over the swamp did they understand the habitat value of the area and join Cole in his advocacy for a new park.  On May 30, 1934, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed an act to create Everglades National Park, specifically for “the preservation intact of the unique flora and fauna and the essential primitive natural conditions now prevailing in this area.”  This was not a park dedicated for tourism, but for biodiversity conservation.

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This Month in Conservation

May 1
Linnaeus Publishes “Species Plantarum” (1753)
May 2
“Peter and The Wolf” Premieres (1936)
May 3
Vagn Walfrid Ekman, Swedish Oceanographer, Born (1874)
May 4
Eugenie Clark, The Shark Lady, Born (1922)
May 5
Frederick Lincoln, Pioneer of Bird Banding, Born (1892)
May 6
Lassen Volcanic National Park Created (1907)
May 7
Nature’s Best Moms
May 8
David Attenborough Born (1926)
May 9
Thames River Embankments Completed (1874)
May 10
Birute Galdikas, Orangutan Expert, Born (1946)
May 11
“HMS Beagle” Launched (1820)
May 12
Farley Mowat, Author of “Never Cry Wolf,” Born (1921)
May 13
St. Lawrence Seaway Authorized (1954)
May 14
Lewis and Clark Expedition Began (1804)
May 15
Declaration of the Conservation Conference (1908)
May 16
Ramon Margalef, Pioneering Ecologist, Born (1919)
May 17
Australian BioBanking for Biodiversity Implemented (2010)
May 18
Mount St. Helens Erupts (1980)
May 19
Carl Akeley, Father of Modern Taxidermy, Born (1864)
May 20
European Maritime Day
May 21
Rio Grande Water-Sharing Convention Signed (1906)
May 22
International Day for Biological Diversity
May 23
President Carter Delivers Environmental Message to Congress (1977)
May 24
Bison Again Roam Free in Canada’s Grasslands National Park (2006)
May 25
Lacey Act Created (1900)
May 26
Last Model T Rolls Off the Assembly Line (1927)
May 27
Rachel Carson, Author of “Silent Spring,” Born (1907)
May 27
A Day for the birds
May 28
Sierra Club Founded (1892)
May 29
Stephen Forbes, Pioneering Ecologist, Born (1844)
May 30
Everglades National Park Created (1934)
May 31
The Johnstown Flood (1889)
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