If the National Parks Service in Homestead, Florida gets their way, private airboat tours of the Florida Everglades will become a thing of the past. Current airboat tour companies, such as Captain Mitch’s, will be among the last to offer tours of the mangroves and wetlands of South Florida. Over the next fifteen to twenty years, the Everglades National Park hopes to end all private airboating in the East Everglades, once the current so-called “grandfathers” of airboating have died out.
Local Gladesmen and airboat tour guides are unhappy with the proposed changes, as it infringes on a way of life that has been upheld in their families for generations and generations. The Everglades is all that many of these men know – they were born here, raised here, and have made their livings here offering services and knowledge that can’t be learned in any school.
Members of the Park Service argue that they are trying to preserve the wilderness of the Florida ecosystem, whereas current Gladesmen and airboat guides argue that Florida has not been truly “wild” for a very long time – it’s been farmed, fished, hunted, and frogged for centuries, during a rich history that began with Native Americans and developed into what we know of as Gladesmen culture today.
Members of the Airboat Association of Florida are not going to go down without a fight. With over two hundred current members, the Association hopes to convince lawmakers about the benefits and values that come out of commercial and private airboat tours. The Gladesmen of the Homestead and Miami areas certainly have a long road and a tough battle ahead of them, but they know it’s worth it in order to keep this unique culture alive and going strong.