Over the last 100 years, millions of Americans and international visitors have stepped foot in America’s national parks. National parks bring out the best of our nation and conserving these beautiful resources for future generations is our pride and responsibility. This summer, I watched with joy as the faces of my four children under the age of 10 lit up as we created memories on our journey through the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Coming from the sunny flatlands of South Florida, we were mesmerized by the tall mountains, steep valleys, grassy meadows and thunderous waterfalls. Old Faithful was an instant hit with my eldest, but the overall experience of the great outdoors left a memorable impression on all of us.
In spite their robust beauty, not all of our national treasures are protected from harm.
We returned home to a Florida in crisis. Blue-green toxic algae devastated Florida’s east and west coasts hurting businesses and destroying summer breaks for families. Thousands of acres of dead seagrass were floating in the Florida Keys from a lack of freshwater flow. In the middle of Florida’s water crisis is another national icon, Everglades National Park.
Half its original size, the greater Everglades is the lifeblood of South Florida’s economy. The drinking water for nearly 1/3 of our state’s population, the Everglades, continues to be threatened by water pollution and over-development. Nearly 16 years after efforts to kick start restoration in 2000 created the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan efforts are still underway to restore freshwater to flow from Lake Okeechobee south to Everglades National Park where it is desperately needed. The plan would hydrate the Everglades and avoid potential wildfires, but also move water into the Park and out to Florida Bay.
Today, there has been progress. Raising bridges along Tamiami Trail begins to restore the natural flow of water into marshes and wetlands of Everglades National Park. This is a key step but more needs to be done if we hope to protect America’s second largest national park.
The challenge before us is to resolve the sins of past generations and provide for a more natural flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park. We must move quickly to identify storage to send more water south so all our sons and daughters will get the chance to hook their first snapper or tarpon in Florida Bay and drink fresh water long into the future.
President Theodore Roosevelt, the man credited with creating our nation’s national park system, declared “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even better a land for our descendants than it is for us.” No truer words today than a century ago.
Everglades restoration is poised to provide for the bountiful supply of water for future generations, while protecting the threatened and endangered species that call it home.The future is bright.
Happy 100th birthday to America’s National Parks. Here’s to hundreds more!
Eric Eikenberg is the CEO of the Everglades Foundation.