Reality TV Comes to Everglades National Park. Will It Help With Diversity?

Alligators were among the creatures members of the Tolón family encountered during their first visit to Everglades National Park. NPS photo.

The National Park Service is turning to reality television with hopes the programs can boost visitor diversity in the parks.

Recently such a show was filmed at Everglades National Park with a Hispanic family that, though lifelong residents of Miami, had never visited the park. The program, produced by Univision-23 and titled Aventura y Diversión En Los Everglades (Fun and Adventure in the Everglades), brought the Tolón family to the park for a weekend of camping.

Park officials say that while "the show presents the many adventures experienced by the family during their camping trip and the personal fears of alligators and wildlife they had to face, the show also focuses on educating viewers about the amazing resources that Everglades National Park preserves for the local community and America."

Along with showing how the family enjoys its weekend in the park, the show also profiles Everglades, noting that it is one of 393 units of the National Park System, contains the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, is home to rare and endangered species, and has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance.

"We had a blast and you [park rangers] have both definitely left a lifelong mark in me in regards to wildlife awareness..... I have a new found respect for nature... Not that I hadn't before but it is different once you have an experience like ours. IT’S AMAZING!!!!!" said Helga M. Tolon.

During the 24-minute show the Tolón family members encounter alligators after dark, canoe through the park's waters, cycle on the trails, and enjoy many other activities while park rangers guide them through the experience. This sort of program is available to all families interested in living their own personal adventure in the Everglades, according to the park.

While park officials point out that the show was produced "with a clear focus on entertainment and education," they also note that "it is part of a national initiative to promote the national parks and motivate U.S. residents to visit and enjoy these national resources which as American citizens they own. Various shows, featuring parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, have aired in other markets, but this is the first to air in Spanish for the Hispanic community of south Florida."

"We are really excited about this opportunity to work with our partners on such a wonderful production that will reach new audiences for this wonderful American treasure," said Everglades Superintendent Dan Kimball.

The program was made possible through support from the National Park Foundation and South Florida National Parks Trust.

Miami has a huge Spanish speaking population that is located between Everglades and Biscayne national parks. Yet many people are afraid or don't know how to visit the parks, according to a park release. Aventura y Diversión En Los Everglades is designed in part to show Hispanic-speaking park neighbors how close they are to an amazing place, and how they can explore it easily in a fun and entertaining way.

If you live in the greater Miami area, the show will air on Univision 23 this Saturday at 11 a.m.

Comments

Thanks for the article. I find it amazing that a huge urban population can ignore such a huge national treasure.
I don't know how "subtropical widerness" is defined, but I believe that the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana far exceeds the everglades in size. In terms of productivity and biodiversity the Atchafalaya Swamp is the clear winner.

Richard, I believe the difference is that the Everglades subtropical area is an officially designated wilderness, whereas the Atchafalaya Basin is not.

Reality television is an excellent way to reach out to larger subsets of American culture who do not traditionally visit our national parks, as long as the educational aspects of the show retain quality and integrity. Along the lines of the use of video for public outreach, I feel that the NPS in cooperation with the Yosemite Conservancy are doing an outstanding job with their "Nature Notes" videographs. In addition, the high visibility given to park ranger Sheldon Johnson in the Ken Burns PBS special on "America's Best Idea" should go far to promote awareness of national parks to people of all ethnic backgrounds.

I can definitely say that the weekend spent in the Everglades opened up my eyes to the reality of what amazing things nature has to offer outside of our everyday city life. I learned what many things I missed out on by not experiencing camping as a whole at a younger age. But better late than never. I was born and raised in Miami, Florida and I had never gone camping. I went to the Everglades as a 5th grader for a fieldtrip. BUt now, at age 38 I can tell you that a fieldtrip is no comparison to what we experienced as a family (3 generations worth) when we embarked on this learning ecoventure. I, personally walked in there with no knowledge of what we were going to see, hear, learn, encounter or experience. I had nothing but the old myths and fears that so many people for so many years fill your head up with, ie. run in zig zags when you encounter a gator, gators are scary creatures that attack anything that moves, be aware and very careful because the Everglades is infested with Pythons that will get you and kill you in your tent while you sleep. I must admit that first night made me realize how small us humans really are in their world, their environment. It is kind of like the ant in the world of humans. Overall, I have always cared about animals, down from a moth to an enormous whale(which I have yet to experience that in Alaska - I wish and will one day be able to see these giants close up as well), but visiting and staying at the Everglades National Park gave me a new found respect for the great outdoors and its inhabitants. We loved it and will definitely be returning to continue learning of the beauty that nature has provided for us that is just a simple highway drive away. Hopefully the show is able to convince not just Hispanic families but diverse cultured families to go out and explore their surroundings. Visiting National Parks and experiencing the different activities they have to offer is a wonderful way to break the everyday electronic monotony and regain the family bonds that so many have forgotten. Thanks

Helga,

Thanks for sharing more of your experience. It sounds like you and your family had a fantastic time in the Everglades, one that hopefully will encourage others who have never ventured into the park to head to the Everglades to "try it out."

You're absolutely right about parks being a great alternative to the "everyday electronic monotony," something that afflicts too many youth today.

Now that you've found the Traveler, hopefully you'll find it to be a great resource for learning about the many other national park options.

Kurt, very positive report. Nice response to the family that camped at the Everglades. I agree with Mr. Owen Huffman, this is just a great way to introduce citizens to our National Parks and other public lands. The family responded accordingly. But, as Owen pointed out it , the message must reflect the purpose of parks and how to take care of them, and it appears this program did that well. Really find your "Traveler very educational Kurt, thank you.

I remember being at the Shark Valley Visitor Center to ask for directions and/or recommendations. One of the park rangers was obviously Spanish speaking (as is much of the Miami area). I do remember a family that was speaking English, but the ranger noticed that they were likely Spanish speakers and talked to one of the kids in Spanish.

This story reminded me of running across kids from the inner city in Boston who would be taken out to the Harbor Islands for week-long camps. For them, being away from the city for the first time, and exposed to night sounds or squirrels, was an entirely new experience — one that was, at times, unsettling. I do think it wise of NPS to reach out to those in our community who haven't experienced the outdoors to help foster a new generation of park enthusiasts. People need to realize the rich beauty that often lies right in their own backyards.

Helga, a little closer to home for whale watching, there are cruises out of Boston harbor that will take you right to the whales in just a few hours. Having done both Alaska and Cape Cod whale watching tours, I can tell you it's just as thrilling in either spot. Three years later and my daughter still sleeps with her little foot-long whale stuffed animal from our Boston trip.

I would watch a season of "The Amazing Race" where they travelled around the country to the national parks and did challenges themed to the parks. I'm sure the NPS could come up with some good background research for the producers. Like the old ad campaign said, "See America First"