Airboats won't be part of Everglades much longer

Everglades Airboat Tour

Everglades Airboat Tour

MIAMI (AP) — Today, South Florida airboat owners like Keith Price, Don Onstad and Charlie Erwin range freely throughout the East Everglades in their roaring, slough-skimming craft as they have for decades.

They buzz through the sawgrass to a lone pond apple tree they call the "Christmas Tree" — a makeshift memorial decorated with stuffed animals and topped by an American flag where several of their departed friends' ashes have been scattered by propeller wash. They hunt for artifacts on tree islands like the Duck Club — named for a ramshackle cabin built in the 1950s that's reputed to have hosted former President Dwight Eisenhower for duck hunting and card playing. They rescue stranded airboaters, escort Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops on slough slogs and pick up countless party balloons that float in from town.

"We are the protectors of the Everglades," Erwin said.

But maybe not for much longer. The three Gladesmen — all longtime members of the airboat Association of Florida ranging in age from 60 to 72 — will be among the last private airboaters to operate in the vast marsh south of Tamiami Trail if officials at Everglades National Park get their way.

The park's proposed general management plan for the next 15 to 20 years calls for an end to all private airboating in the East Everglades once the "grandfathers" who operate there now have died. The region was added to the national park in 1989, and whoever can prove he or she had a registered airboat in Miami-Dade County back then could obtain a non-transferrable, non-renewable permit to operate on designated trails only for the remainder of their lives. Park officials estimate 1,000 to 2,000 airboaters would be affected.

As for longtime commercial airboat tour operators along the Trail — Coopertown, Everglades Safari Park, and Gator Park — the park proposes to buy their properties, turn them into concessionaires and confine their operations to a "front country zone" of about 10,000 to 11,000 acres just south of the Trail. If the park's preferred plan is adopted sometime next year, then the rest of the East Everglades — more than 80,000 acres — would be designated as wilderness with no mechanical propulsion — even bicycles — allowed.

Airboating already is prohibited in other parts of the park, including the western side of the park around Everglades City, park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

Park planner Fred Herling says the aim is to strike a balance between the desires of airboaters and other visitors such as paddlers and hikers.

"We acknowledge private airboating and commercial airboating is an important way for people to experience the Everglades," Herling said. "And there are people who want to experience it in a more wilderness way."

But long-timers such as Price, Erwin and Onstad argue that the region hasn't truly been a wilderness for a very long time, that it has been hunted, fished, frogged and farmed for centuries starting with Native Americans and culminating with the Gladesmen, whose culture has evolved over the past 100 years.

"This place is special," Price, the 60-year-old president of the airboat association, said. "I have pictures of my daughter climbing the trees. My daughter is 40 now and still climbs the trees. They will put up markers and boundaries and tell us we can't go there because it's virgin land. There's something that's been here longer than the park's been here and that's Gladesmen culture. We don't want to destroy something we want to share with our children and grandchildren. We're just trying to hang onto our rights."

And private airboat owners like Price are not the only ones.

All three commercial airboat tour operators along Tamiami Trail acknowledge the National Park Service has approached them over the past month with offers to buy their properties. But no deals have been closed yet, and the business owners are wary of becoming concessionaires, paying rent to the park service with little say in how their day-to-day operations will be conducted.

Going in, the tour operators already were aggravated by being told to cease operations during the federal government shutdown last October. And before that, road and bridge construction on the Trail — aimed at unblocking the flow of fresh water south from Lake Okeechobee through the 'Glades to Florida Bay — deterred some visitors from their attractions. Rick Farace, who runs Everglades Safari Park, says he sees no more water flowing south under the new bridge than before, and that it seems to be going north instead.

"The government can't even run itself," Farace said.

There's actually a scientific explanation for what Farace observed, according to South Florida Water Management District spokesman Gabe Margasak: "It's a good observation. The situation is possible when the northeast Shark River Slough water levels are higher than in the L-29 canal (north of Tamiami Trail). The district isn't moving any water out of the area. The water is equalizing itself because of recent rainfall. It doesn't happen often, but it happens."

Erwin, secretary of the airboat club, is frustrated by the impending limitations on airboat access to a place he has enjoyed since boyhood.

"You ate whatever you found out there," he said. "You'd stick a couple frogs, kill a deer. Anything the park does, they kick out the people who truly love it and let in snowbirds. You get on your little boardwalk and take pictures. With the park service, it's all about parks for profit."

Price and his fellow club members — there are about 200 — hope to convince lawmakers to keep the East Everglades open to airboating.

"We need recognition, bringing representatives and senators out here and making them aware of what's going on," Price said. "Laws are made by man; they can be changed by man. We won't let this Gladesmen culture die."

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Comments » 14

MasonDixon writes:

Time to dump my hearing protection stocks!

DebDelany writes:

Why don't you just say, "No fun allowed"
Maybe they'll lie to them and tell them they will designate another spot for them, like they did for the four-wheelers.

Voice-of-America writes:

Thanks obama!!!.....and his Goose Stepping EPA.....

The spotted red livered suck worm has more rights than US Humans in obama's eyes!!!....

Thanks to the "liberals in power".....The Humans on this Planet have become the "Endangered Species"..........

All the while obama spends MILLIONS to vacation and golf in Hawaii!!!...."Let them eat cake"!!!!!....

Hopey/Changy.........

Heraclitus writes:

Now what?

What's the matter with airboats?... They float. The only way regular folks can get back into those areas is by airboat or swamp buggy.

Time to leave the entire swamp to the Burmese Pythons, the Rock Pythons and the Anacondae. Adios environment.

How come no one is filing an ADA lawsuit? Aren't parks supposed to be handicap accessible?

Ruskin writes:

North of the Tamiami Trail will remain open at 40 Mile Bend/L-28 area. Lots of great Airboating and great camps out there.

map: http://goo.gl/maps/JZ6xD

titanbite writes:

If we're trying to attract more diverse eco-tourism in the Everglades what should be happening is an agricultural shutdown, not an eco-tourist attraction shut-down.

Agriculture contributes much more in the way of chemical pesticide pollution and habitat damage due to encrouchment than any tourist attraction like airboating could cause.

And, airboating doesn't attract an ever increasing number of illegal/undocumented workers and their families that add even more negative environmental weight on this area's limited natural resources, never mind the negative impacts brought upon the society at large.

MasonDixon writes:

in response to titanbite:

If we're trying to attract more diverse eco-tourism in the Everglades what should be happening is an agricultural shutdown, not an eco-tourist attraction shut-down.

Agriculture contributes much more in the way of chemical pesticide pollution and habitat damage due to encrouchment than any tourist attraction like airboating could cause.

And, airboating doesn't attract an ever increasing number of illegal/undocumented workers and their families that add even more negative environmental weight on this area's limited natural resources, never mind the negative impacts brought upon the society at large.

To have Eco-tourists, they must be able to eat and survive economically.
Kind of a Catch 22 situation to the problem.

swamp999 writes:

Step up for yours air boaters. You are finding out just like everyone else that Obama and his entire restructuring of our country is effecting everyone.
From insurance to trade, from the EPA to the FAA, nothing is getting left out. The "Old" Florida is gone. The "New" Florida is full of cracker box housing developments, tearing down of natural habitat for animals and stop humans from air boating or ATV riding. Are you all having fun now?

orangeade writes:

That's what happens when jerks from cities move here and contaminate what they came here to escape from. As a person who moved here and didn't come to change things I find it mystifying. If things were so great where you were why did you move here? And BTW that applies to your politics too.

titanbite writes:

in response to MasonDixon:

To have Eco-tourists, they must be able to eat and survive economically.
Kind of a Catch 22 situation to the problem.

Tourists don't live on sawdust tasting, gas-ripened tomatoes alone MD, besides, not only is the Mexican tomato ripened on the vine and actually tastes like a tomato, the real bonus associated with Mexican tomatoes, is that our taxes aren't being used to subsidize any Mexican tomato farm labor.

Most of the agriculture in this area has worn out its usefulness, its competitiveness and they grow lousy tasting produce.

Other country's, like many in Central and South America, can export better produce without exporting their labor and the third world problems those workers bring with them when they come into this country to work at failing, noncompetitive farms illegally.

Lest we forget,we have farms that freely admit that they can't compete without the use of illegal/undocumented labor, a practice that has been going on for many, many years in this area.

I'm sure you, of all people, would recognize the futility behind promoting the perpetuation of admitted failure?

No?

Heraclitus writes:

I seem to remember a movie about the Everglades and airboats when I was a kid... maybe with Burl Ives. Was it "Wind Across the Everglades"? I wonder if it's ever on TCM?

orangeade writes:

in response to titanbite:

Tourists don't live on sawdust tasting, gas-ripened tomatoes alone MD, besides, not only is the Mexican tomato ripened on the vine and actually tastes like a tomato, the real bonus associated with Mexican tomatoes, is that our taxes aren't being used to subsidize any Mexican tomato farm labor.

Most of the agriculture in this area has worn out its usefulness, its competitiveness and they grow lousy tasting produce.

Other country's, like many in Central and South America, can export better produce without exporting their labor and the third world problems those workers bring with them when they come into this country to work at failing, noncompetitive farms illegally.

Lest we forget,we have farms that freely admit that they can't compete without the use of illegal/undocumented labor, a practice that has been going on for many, many years in this area.

I'm sure you, of all people, would recognize the futility behind promoting the perpetuation of admitted failure?

No?

What are you talking about?
What in heaven's name does Mexican produce have to do with people using airboats?

sandman2446 (Inactive) writes:

in response to Voice-of-America:

Thanks obama!!!.....and his Goose Stepping EPA.....

The spotted red livered suck worm has more rights than US Humans in obama's eyes!!!....

Thanks to the "liberals in power".....The Humans on this Planet have become the "Endangered Species"..........

All the while obama spends MILLIONS to vacation and golf in Hawaii!!!...."Let them eat cake"!!!!!....

Hopey/Changy.........

Posts like this is exactly why Daffy Duck dynasty, voice of america, glenn beck, sarah palin have fewer rights than the spotted red livered suck worm. The worms are better read, have traveled more, are considerably smarter. Airboats and duck callers and fox "news" I expect we can all do without.

astrolite writes:

I want to see ALL the golf courses returned to nature! Why do we subsidize them for the rich? More chemicals and fertilizer are used on them than all the agriculture in the state. What I really want is ALL the government land opened up unconditionally for it's rightful owners! The taxpayers! Enough of this land only for the enjoyment of the environmental elite!

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