Everglades National Park

Park visitors fear regulations could limit access


The first public hearing on the future of Everglades National Park aroused many as the proposed plan seemed like a list of restrictions.


Some of the most frequent and passionate visitors to Everglades National Park fear the park’s preferred blueprint for the future will drastically limit their access or shut them out altogether.

That was the overriding theme at a packed meeting Tuesday in Homestead — the first of at least seven public hearings on proposed plans to manage park lands and waters over the next 20-30 years. Four alternatives under the general management plan and wilderness study — in the works for more than ten years —face much more discussion and probably revisions before final approval in 2014.

Among the provisions in the park’s preferred alternative are: designating about a third of Florida Bay’s shallowest waters as pole-and-troll zones to protect sea grass beds — which feed and shelter fish, crustaceans and other sea life — from boat propeller damage; requiring boaters to take a test and obtain a permit before using park waters; and setting aside some 80,000 acres in the East Everglades (south of Tamiami Trail) as wilderness — no mechanized vehicles or even bicycles permitted — with another 9,900 acres set aside as potential wilderness.

Said David Olsen, board member of the angling group CCA-Florida, to park officials at Tuesday’s meeting: “There’s growing concern in the angling community…a lot of people frankly believe you don’t want us there.”

Speakers told Everglades superintendent Dan Kimball, park planner Fred Herling, and National Park Service southeast regional planning chief Ben West the preferred alternative doesn’t include enough areas where boats could operate at idle speed to get back and forth between the large pole-and-troll zones.

Said veteran flats guide captain Rob Fordyce of Homestead: “The more areas you limit access to, these areas are going to be so difficult to get to, you’ll have a whole bay with 20-foot-plus boats.”

Light-tackle guide and television personality captain Rick Murphy of Homestead demanded park officials listen to fishermen — or else they will take their case to South Florida members of Congress.

“Everyone in this room is upset about the scare tactics,” Murphy said. “You propose crazy stuff and we think we have to come up with a compromise.”

Captain Eric Herstedt, representing the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, came prepared with a laundry list of specific suggestions aimed at maintaining boater access while minimizing damage to sea grass, including: designating more idle-speed zones between pole-and-troll zones; installing tidal markers to indicate water levels in bights; leaving traditional navigation channels open but designating them “local knowledge”; moving sea buoys or ‘head pins’ that mark the entrances to channels further into open water to reduce cutting corners; and placing two members of the guides organization on an advisory board to work with park officials on adaptive management.

“Continued access is paramount,” Herstedt said. “The park should focus on education to create responsible users of the park.”

Nobody at the meeting voiced any objections to mandatory boater education or permitting.

Airboaters, froggers and others who visit the East Everglades were troubled by the proposed wilderness designation.

Barbara Jean Powell of the Everglades Coordinating Council said it would keep people out of a region that has become the epicenter of South Florida’s “python crisis”.

“It is important to protect South Florida’s flora and fauna,” Powell said. “These need human intervention. You need humans to kill pythons.”

David Anderson objected to a proposal to restrict airboats to designated trails in the East Everglades.

“It ruins the enjoyment of riding,” he said.

Other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting said they felt park officials were spending too much time on rules and regulations and not enough effort on larger environmental problems such as water quality and the python infestation.

“Pesticides and weed killers are creating a water quality problem in Flamingo,” said Danny Helms. “Focus on the quality of the water and put the money to the best use to do that.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kimball thanked the crowd for their input.

“This is exactly the feedback I was hoping for,” he said. “I’m prepared to meet with fishing clubs and groups and go out on the water.”

Kimball said park officials and their colleagues are “making some great headway” in restoring the Everglades ecosystem and doing whatever they can to control the python problem.

He also pledged to establish an advisory group to help guide park management and added that some “eloquent people” in the audience should be part of it.

The comment period for the long-term general management plan for Everglades National Park will be open through May 12. Public meetings will be held April 8 at the IGFA in Dania Beach; April 9th at Edison State College in Naples; April 10 at the Monroe County Government Center in Key Largo and April 11 at Florida International University in Miami. All meeting are from 5:30 p.m. till 8:30 p.m.

To read the plan and comment electronically, go to: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/EVER, then “open for comment”.

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

A cheetah and her offspring at White Oak near Yulee.

    WILDLIFE | White Oak Conservation center

    Exotic, endangered animals thrive at Wild Oak preserve

    The North Florida facility that rehabilitated a young, injured Florida panther has a long tradition of helping threatened and endangered species.

  • outdoors

    South Florida fishing report: April 16, 2014

    Kim Mills of the Kelley Fleet reported all of their day boats have had catches of sailfish, dolphins, blackfin tuna, bonitos and cobia. All of the catches were made outside the outer reef. Captain Wayne Conn from the party boat Reward out of Miami Beach Marina reported on a recent night bottom fishing trip his 40 customers landed close to 400 yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snappers.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Tribute: </span>Runner’s shoes are laid out in a display titled, ‘Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial,’ in the Boston Public Library.

    In My Opinion

    Linda Robertson: Runners remember Boston Marathon tragedy

    Amber Seidle-Lazo had run 26 miles of the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon when she was stopped by police one year ago on April 15 and told the finish line was closed.

Get your Miami Heat Fan Gear!

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category