Everglades National Park Created (1934)

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.

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

            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.

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas called the Everglades a “river of grass” (photo by G. Gardiner, National Park Service)

            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.

            Thirteen more years passed until enough land was acquired—now just over 1.5 million acres—and the park became a reality.  On December 6, 1947, President Truman dedicated the park, saying, “Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country.”

            The wisdom of those early leaders is evident today.  Everglades National Park preserves the largest subtropical wetland in North America, housing nine distinct habitats.  It is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance—one of only three locations in the world to have all three designations.  Surprisingly, it is not one of the most visited national parks, averaging about 1 million visitors per year.  All the better, perhaps, for the preservation of this unique ecosystem.

An invasive Burmese python (photo by Heather Swift, Department of the Interior)

            The Everglades has many problems, however.  For many years, it was on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites (thankfully, now off that list).  Diversion of freshwater and draining were two major issues, both because of the lack of freshwater itself and because of salt-water intrusion from the ocean margins. But recent efforts have focused on re-establishing natural water flows.  Invasive species are a constant issue, as animals and plants escaped or released from captivity find a welcome home in the swamps.  The massive increase in the population of Burmese pythons is a common news story.

            It is a huge ecosystem, however, and when the forces of nature operate on such a large scale, the insults of humans are hardly strong enough to persist.  Let’s hope so.  And let’s hope that the images so ably recorded by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas continue to be the images we all experience:  “The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.”

References:

Holleran, Patrick.  Everglades National Park.  Park vision.  Available at:  http://www.shannontech.com/ParkVision/Everglades/Everglades.html.  Accessed May 2, 2019.

National Park Service.  Ernest F. Coe, Everglades National Park.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/historyculture/cf-coe.htm.  Accessed May 2, 2019.

Public Broadcasting Service.  Everglades National Park.  Available at:  http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/parks/everglades/.  Accessed May 2, 2019.

U.S. Department of the Interior.  2017.  10 Things You Didn’t Know About Everglades National Park.  Blog, 12/5/2017.  Available at:  https://www.doi.gov/blog/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-everglades-national-park.  Accessed May 2, 2019.

U.S. Government Printing Office.  1934.  An Act To provide for the establishment of the Everglades National Park in the State of Florida and for other purposes.  Federal Register, May 30, 1934.  Available at:  https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/73rd-congress/session-2/c73s2ch371.pdf.  Accessed May 2, 2019.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
January February March April May June July August September October November December