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Contact: General Park Information, 305-242-7700
Contact: Fred Herling, 305-242-7704
Contact: Katherine Corrigan, 305-242-7714
Everglades National Park announces the release of its final General Management Plan/East Everglades Wilderness Study/Environmental Impact Statement (Final GMP), which provides broad guidance for the next several decades on natural and cultural resource protection, appropriate types of visitor activities, and facility development within the park.
These documents update the park’s 1979 Master Plan, to ensure that long-term protection of park resources and support restoration of natural systems, provide improved opportunities for quality visitor experiences. The plan also includes a wilderness study for the East Everglades Addition, and updates zoning for airboat use. The Final GMP is available at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/
During plan development the National Park Service (NPS) conducted extensive civic engagement, holding more than 100 meetings and site visits in the park with the public, elected officials, agency managers, tribal representatives, and many stakeholder groups, with more than 3,000 participants and more than 25,000 written comments received.
“The Park is thankful for the substantial commitment from the public and stakeholders who participated in shaping the Final GMP,” said Park SuperintendentPedro Ramos. “As we move from plan approval to implementation, we look forward to continuing to work together with partner agencies, especially the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, our tribal neighbors, elected officials, and the numerous individuals and organizations committed to advancing the important initiatives described in the plan.”
Key changes in the final plan based on draft plan public input are refinements to: (1) Florida Bay zoning to provide more accurate resource-based zones that protect ecological and wilderness resources, including seagrass beds, mudflats and wildlife, while providing appropriate bay access; (2) East Everglades Addition zoning and wilderness proposal to further support ecosystem restoration, resource protection and expanded recreation opportunities; (3) the new 120-mile Everglades Paddling Trail (called the Alternative Wilderness Waterway in the draft plan) to provide enhanced paddling experiences in the park’s western backcountry including peak-season no-motor and slow-speed segments, while recognizing the region’s traditional recreational uses; and (4) the management of the Joe Bay area, which will be opened to public use for the first time in over 30 years, allowing for paddling and catch-and-release fishing.
Consistent with the 1989 East Everglades Addition legislation, within this 109,600-acre area in the park’s northeast corner, the plan identifies a 27,300-acre zone for private airboat use, and within that area, 16,400 acres would be available for NPS concessioner airboat tours to enhance visitor experiences. New opportunities for backcountry recreation such as hiking and paddling would be present throughout much of the East Everglades Addition. The final preferred alternative proposes an 85,300-acre expansion of the park’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness, and includes 42,200 acres as proposed wilderness and 43,100 acres as potential wilderness.
Important GMP features related to Florida Bay, the Ten-thousand Islands and other shallow-water marine areas to enhance resource protection, visitor experiences and safety include: (1) a state-of-the-art online boater education program and permit system; (2) on-the-water improvements (signs, markers, additional rangers); (3) specific to Florida Bay, about 140,000 acres of strategic shallow-water zoning to enhance resource protection while providing appropriate access; and (4) establishing a public advisory committee to work with the park to adaptively manage these significant areas over time.
“The Final GMP also highlights a new, smarter approach to sustainable redevelopment in coastal areas like Flamingo and Everglades City, where consideration of sea level rise, storm surge and fiscal realities have led to innovative investment strategies for both the NPS and our partners,” Ramos said.
While completing the plan is a major milestone, more critical is the ability of the park and its stakeholders to work cooperatively going forward. Superintendent Ramos said, “We are eager to begin the important work to advance the projects outlined in the plan and see the resulting improvements to park resource conditions and visitor opportunities.”
Announcement of the Final GMP release in the Federal Register began a 30-day waiting period before the Record of Decision can be signed, which completes the EIS process and approves the final plan. Later this year, after the ROD is signed the park will provide more details on the plan implementation priorities and strategies outlined in the plan, and identify ways for the public to participate in those efforts.