The Jones family has lived in the Everglades for five generations. They’ve made their livelihoods in Mack’s Fish Camp, a spit of marshland that straddles the county line between Broward and Miami-Dade out west. They live among seven-foot alligators, painted turtles, blue herons and white egrets. They make a living fixing airboats, renting out bungalows and serving as guides for tourists and government researchers. They are known as Gladesmen.
This summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a study of the Gladesmen, which have deep emotional and historical ties to the Everglades. The Jones family was featured in the report by the Army on Gladesmen culture. Marshall Jones was eager to take part in the study because he saw it as a last chance to make his voice heard. Why a last chance? Because the study will likely influence the Everglades restoration plan, which will cost about $12 billion and take 30 years to complete. Because the plan will physically change the waterways to capture fresh water to revive the Everglades, the way of life of the Gladesmen will likely change.
The Gladesmen culture goes back to South Florida’s first Anglo settlers in the 1800s. What ties the early pioneers with the modern Gladesmen is the simple yearning to spend time in the backcountry. They see themselves as stewards of the unique environment in the Everglades.
Frank Denninger considers himself a spokesman for the Gladesmen. Although he lives in Hialeah, he spends about a third of the year in the Everglades in Big Cypress hunting and hiking. He is in his early 60s and has been coming out here for 45 years. He says if he could make a living off hunting alligator, he wouldn’t be in the metal fabrication business. He says being a Gladesman is in his blood.