Everglades National Park - Park History

Park History

Further information: Ernest F. Coe

Floridians hoping to preserve at least part of the Everglades began to express their concern over diminishing resources in the early 20th century. Royal Palm State Park was created in 1916; it included several trails and a visitor's center several miles from Homestead. Miami-based naturalists first proposed that the area become a national park in 1923. Five years later, the Florida state legislature established the Tropical Everglades National Park Commission to study the formation of a protected area. The commission was led by a land developer turned conservationist named Ernest F. Coe, who was eventually nicknamed Father of Everglades National Park. Coe's original plan for the park included more than 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2) including Key Largo and Big Cypress, and his unwillingness to compromise almost prevented the park's creation. Various other interests, including land developers and sport hunters, demanded some of the land be trimmed.

The commission was also tasked with proposing a method to raise the money to purchase the land. The search coincided with the arrival of the Great Depression in the United States, and money for land purchase was scarce. The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the creation of the new national park on May 30, 1934, but it passed only with a rider that ensured no money would be allotted to the project for at least five years. Coe's passion and U.S. Senator Spessard Holland's politicking helped to fully establish the park, after Holland was able to negotiate 1,300,000 acres (5,300 km2) of the park, leaving out Big Cypress, Key Largo, the Turner River area, and a 22,000-acre (89 km2) tract of land called "The Hole in the Donut" that was too highly valued for agriculture. Miami Herald editor John Pennekamp was instrumental in pushing the Florida Legislature to raise $2 million to purchase the private land inside the park boundaries. It was dedicated by President Harry Truman on December 6, 1947, one month after Douglas' book was released. In the same year, several tropical storms struck South Florida, prompting the construction of 1,400 miles (2,300 km) of canals, sending water unwanted by farmers and residents to the ocean.

The Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project (C&SF) was authorized by Congress to construct more than a thousand miles of canals and flood control structures across South Florida. The C&SF, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, established an agricultural area directly south of Lake Okeechobee, and three water conservation areas, all bordered by canals that diverted excess water either to urban areas or into the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico or Florida Bay. South of these manmade regions was Everglades National Park, which had been effectively cut off from its water supply. By the 1960s, the park was visibly suffering. Although the C&SF was directed to provide enough water to sustain the park, it did not follow through. A proposed airport that would have dire environment effects on Everglades National Park became the center of a battle that helped to initiate the environmental movement into local and national politics. The airport proposal was eventually abandoned and in 1972 a bill was introduced to curb development in South Florida and ensure the national park would receive the amount of water it needed. Efforts turned to repairing the damage wrought by decades of mismanagement: the Army Corps of Engineers changed its focus in 1990 from constructing dams and canals to constructing "purely environmental projects".

Regions originally included in Ernest Coe's vision for a national park were slowly added over the years to the park or incorporated into other protected areas: Biscayne National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary were all protected after the park's opening in 1947. Everglades National Park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve on October 26, 1976. On November 10, 1978, most of the park was declared a wilderness area. Wilderness designations covered 1,296,505 acres (5,246.77 km2) in 2003—about 86 percent of the park. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on October 24, 1979 and as a Wetland of International Importance on June 4, 1987. It was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger from 1993 until 2007 and then again in 2010.

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