A woman dressed in a blue bonnet, wearing an early 1900s country dress with laced sleeves, asked a Miami girl scout on Saturday, “What do you know about Lili Lawrence Bow?” The woman was acting as the first librarian of Homestead as part of the sixth annual Vintage Everglades event, held at Royal Palm, inside Everglades National Park.
Other historic figures, who all contributed in some way to the conservation and preservation of what would become Everglades National Park, were also portrayed by volunteers in costume. Many spoke to guests in the first-person of their characters, fully embodying their personas.
Saturday’s event commemorating 104 years since the organization’s inception opened with a flag ceremony by local Girl Scout troops.
Vintage Everglades organizer Dolores Conlin said the event is meant to not only celebrate the past century of the National Park Service’s existence, but also the next 100 years of young people taking on leadership roles and becoming environmental stewards.
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The theme of this year’s Vintage Day was “Women in Conservation.”
“When we celebrate Vintage Day, we look back on the last 100 years of the many women who fought to preserve this,” Conlin said. “None of this would be here if it weren’t for them.”
Fran P. Mainella, who was the first woman to hold the office as director of NPS and of Florida’s State Parks, spoke in front of guests right beside where she was nominated 15 years ago by President George W. Bush.
She says the most profound time during her tenure as director was the period following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“It affected our national parks on such a great level. We were being threatened a lot after 9/11, particularly in our parks, and we had to make sure that everybody was safe but still enjoying themselves. The positive side, following the attacks, is that we saw people going to the parks so much more because they were looking for solitude, peace and being able to enjoy nature and the benefit it provides.”
She says what makes Everglades National Park different from other parks throughout the U.S. is that it’s a true mirror of our environment and climate issues.
The event also featured a Miccosukee school teacher who showed guests how to make woven baskets from sweetgrass and palmetto fiber; a model of the Nike Hercules Missile; and digital displays of archaeological and historical finds within the park. Some families trekked through the shaded Gumbo Limbo Trail, which offered a cool respite from the midday heat. Others snapped photos of birds and snakes in Royal Palm’s watershed area along the Anhinga Trail.
A trolley picked people up from downtown Homestead and from the park’s visitor’s center and dropped them off to the event. Some trollies even had costumed characters on board, letting people know en route what they could expect and who some of the key figures were in protecting the Everglades. All Vintage Everglades Day activities were complimentary.
Daniel Beard, who did the first biological study of the Everglades and came up with the first map of the park, was portrayed on Saturday, alongside Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Henry Flagler, gunslinger Laurie Upthegrove, and Judge Howell Cobb Lowe, who was the area’s first post master before becoming a judge. Those who portrayed the characters, retelling mini-biographies of those whom they depicted, were all volunteers.
Tonya Howington played a young Marjory Stoneman Douglas, holding up the author and environmentalist’s renowned book, The Everglades: River of Grass. Douglas was a staunch defender of the Everglades and vigorously fought off efforts to drain it for development.
“She was a great observer, and that was her hallmark,” Howington said. “When you read the book, she talks about how much detail there is in the park.”
Douglas helped found the still-standing Friends of the Everglades conservation organization.
Women field biologists who work in the Everglades spoke under a pavilion about the diversity of work in conservation, animal behavior, exotic invasive reptiles, the importance of prescribed burns to maintain habitats, among other related topics.
Lorenzo Cornejo, 16, of Cutler Bay volunteered at the National Park Service’s booth during the event. He says he remembers the early and lasting effect nature has had on him, ever since he and his father would fish in and around the park when he was young.
“The Everglades is special because you can’t find anything like it anywhere. You never know what you’re going to find out here,” he said. “I remember seeing fish, six-feet in length, when I’d go fishing with my dad. So many things have already been discovered, but you can still find more that might not be.”