Dozens of activists met outside Miami-Dade County's Stephen P. Clark Center chanting and carrying banners with phrases like “Neverglades or Foreverglades.” They marched in protest of the River of Grass Greenway (ROGG), a roughly 75-mile bike path planned to run from Naples to Miami alongside the Tamiami Trail (US 41).
The project was proposed in 2006 by a group of cyclists from Naples. In 2010, the National Park Service took a one million dollar federal grant to develop the trail.
While supporters say the "greenway" is intended to help travelers better appreciate the environment, but the plans have alarmed Everglades residents and activists.
Karen Dwyer, one of the protest organizers says in the last three years the group has held pickets, press conferences and even walked the proposed path, but have heard nothing from city planners and officials.
“We feel there hasn’t been much of a dialogue at all with the ROGG committee. We’re disappointed. We feel like they’re ignoring the public,” says Dwyer.
On July 1st, the last day for public comment on the project, activists marched from the Stephen P. Clark building to the Miami-Dade's parks and recreation headquarters, to personally deliver remarks to the project's planner Mark Heinicke.
Some protesters came from as far as Alaska to raise awareness about the environmental risks they believe the project poses.
Dwyer says the path would run through six protected parks, the Collier Seminole and Turner River battlefields and indigenous sacred places such as burial grounds, many of which are unmarked.
“It’s going to destroy wetlands, fragment critical wildlife habitat...it’s encroaching on indigenous lands...we’re right in the middle of a 30-year Everglades restoration plan, we should be fixing things not making them worse,” she says.
According to the ROGG website, the path will provide “opportunities for education, stewardship, and preservation of the environmental, historic, and cultural assets of this unique area,” increasing eco-tourism. Proponents also say that the bike path will not impact water flow or quality and will be the only path for non-motorized vehicles.
Bobby C. Billie, spiritual leader for the council of the Miccosukee-Simanolee aboriginal people, says this project goes against native law.
“All of this asphalt and construction takes from our relationship with nature. [Our] elders raised us to be connected to the Earth,” he says.
Billie was born and raised in Big Cypress National preserve, right in the middle of the planned ROGG pathway. He says the development has been making residents sick, a physical manifestation of their spiritual disconnect.
“We’re just trying to protect what’s left...enough is enough. Trees, plants, animals...all of God’s creations have a right to survive, just like all of us.”
Project manager Mark Heinicke eventually came downstairs to speak with the group and announce that the deadline for comment would be extended.
“I appreciate them coming to Downtown Miami," he said. "They obviously have the right to protest.”
Heinicke said the extension was not related to protests but that the committee needed more time to read through submissions. He emphasized that since a design plan has been not been confirmed, construction may not begin for years to come.
The new deadline for public comment in July, 15th 2015. More information on the project can be found at http://www.evergladesrogg.org/j/