Everglades National Park
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK represents the only subtropical nature reserve in North America. The preserve in southern Florida encompasses 2, 354 square miles (1, 506, 499 acres) of mangrove swamps, pinelands, pond apple and cypress forests, and saw grass prairie. It supports rare species such as the Florida panther and the manatee and is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.
The unique ecosystem that characterizes the Everglades emerged 5, 000 years ago, when decreasing sea levels and altered climatic conditions allowed plants to colonize the region. When Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 1500s, they encountered a thriving Native American culture based on hunting, fishing, and trade. War and disease signaled the demise of the indigenous population by 1763. In the early 1800s, however, Creeks and Seminoles moved to the Everglades to avoid removal from Florida. Early Euro-American visitors, such as the naturalist John James Audubon, marveled at the swampland wildlife. In 1840, Colonel William Harvey noted, "no country that I have ever seen bears any resemblance to it; it seems like a vast sea filled with grass and green trees." Interest in southern Florida burgeoned during the late 1800s, motivated by attempts to drain the land for agricultural purposes. Hunters also flocked to the Everglades, seeking to profit from the market for feathered hats.
A campaign to preserve the Everglades germinated in the 1920s. Concerned over habitat loss and declining wildlife, the Connecticut landscape architect Ernest F. Coe established the Tropic Everglades National Park Association in 1928. The same year, Senator Duncan Fletcher of Florida introduced a bill to establish Everglades National Park. In 1930, an influential commission chaired by National Park Service Director Horace Albright
recommended protection. On 30 May 1934, Congress approved the Everglades Bill, and on 6 December 1947, following a lengthy process of land acquisition, the park was formally established. In preserving an area for its biological rather than geological attributes, the dedication of Everglades National Park set a precedent in national park legislation.
Everglades National Park remains the only park in the Western Hemisphere to be designated an international biosphere reserve (1976) and a world heritage site (1979). As one of Florida's foremost tourist destinations, the park attracts some one million visitors each year. In 1993, the park was placed on the World Heritage in Danger list. Outside development, pollution, and Florida's expansive irrigation and flood control systems threatened the biotic integrity of the park. The National Park Service, together with state authorities, responded with a series of measures aimed at restoring the Everglades ecosystem. Under the auspices of the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act (1989) and the Everglades Forever Act (1994), resource managers inaugurated long-term programs to improve water quality, increase the flow of freshwater through the park, restore wetlands habitat, and stabilize populations of native fauna.
Douglas, Marjory Stoneman. The Everglades: River of Grass. Reprint. Sarasota, Fla.: Pineapple Press, 1997.
Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. 2d rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.