Less than two weeks remain for you to comment on the proposed changes to the management plan for Everglades National Park. This document, which addresses everything from managing wilderness to boat use in the park, will guide on-the-ground decisions in Everglades for the next 15 to 20 years.
The debate so far has been somewhat contentious, as one proposal being considered would limit powerboating in parts of the park. Part of the package also tries to address the future of the East Everglades Expansion Area and how it should be managed.
The plan also will address activities that could impact manatees, an endangered species, and delicate beds of sea grass, which are key to the health and ecology of Florida Bay.
On the recreation side of things, Alternative D would allow for a 99-mile-long waterway set aside for paddlers. It also calls for the creation of a 106,000-acre wilderness in the East Everglades Expansion Area. This proposal, understandably, is not embraced by everyone, as this area has been used for airboat tours of the park. Under Alternative D, airboat permits issued after 1989 would be phased out. Additionally, three commercial airboat tour companies would be bought out by the Park Service.
While this might seem a direct blow at tourism in the park, the upside of restricting airboats in this area would be healthier fisheries and paddling concessions that would enable visitors to get an up-close view of the park without the noise and smell of engines. It also would allow for construction of the Tamiami Trail Skyway, an elevated road that would run 11 miles and benefit the ecosystem by improving water flows through the park and into Florida Bay, preventing road kills, and decreasing habitat fragmentation.
Comments must be received by midnight local time on Tuesday, July 31.