God's Country

Live alligators. Dead snakes. Howling owls. About the only thing the Everglades doesn't have is a bright future.

Another time we were shooting garfish with bows and arrows at a rest stop. (Gar make for easy targets, and whenever we felt guilty about killing them without good reason, we'd recall it wasn't too many years before that there existed a one-cent bounty on gar.) On this occasion a carload of tourists pulled up at the rest stop. Once they realized the two teenagers armed with heavy-duty bows were more interested in whatever was in the water than in them, the tourists moseyed over and expressed curiosity. A water snake swam by at that moment. "Cottonmouth moccasin," Daryl nonchalantly lied to the pink-skinned visitors. Daryl's treble-tip hunting arrow penetrated the snake about two inches below the head. The tourists gasped.

I like to think I learned something over the years. Today I would never do anything that might harm a living animal A not even a water snake A in the River of Grass. Too much has been done to harm them already. A fishing bow is nothing compared to a bulldozer. And I'm nothing compared to H. Wayne Huizenga. He has Panthers -- as in the hockey team -- but I don't. The chances of someone like me eyeballing a Florida panther -- the mammal -- are about as good as the Florida Marlins winning the World Series -- for the next twenty years in a row. While going undefeated. And Charlie Hough pitching a no-hitter in all 162 games.

There's far too much at stake now for any dicking around, for hockey arenas and baseball stadiums and all this other crap we keep hearing about the Glades and urban encroachment and pollution. There are too many experiences yet to be had in the wilderness -- most of my friends have children now -- for anyone to do anything that might cause any damage whatsoever to any part of the Glades. You can banter the facts about wetlands, how they provide so much life and protect against floods and all that. You can try to follow the stupid-ass economic battle over the restoration project; the fight began in 1988, when the federal government filed suit against Florida, demanding that the state do something about sugar growers dumping pollution into the swamp -- and the dispute still continues today in court. You can boycott Blockbuster till you're blue in the brain. You can -- and most likely do -- ignore the whole damn mess.

But I take to heart something I read in a book called The Complete Guide to Life in Florida: "The life expectancy of [Everglades National Park, just one important part of the Everglades and one that is protected by law] in 1990 was estimated at only 5-10 years." It is now 1994.

I told someone that I wanted to show people what it is we're losing, destroying. "Wayne's World? Where he's building there's nothing but melaleucas," retorted one colleague. I was beginning to get an idea of how most people probably feel about the area west of Miramar -- wasteland suitable for paving over.

We can live without the melaleucas, which my brothers and I called paper trees when we were kids. They are useless, evil, destructive trees to be sure, a nonindigenous species imported from Australia that serves no purpose and is nearly impossible to eradicate. Then again, I'll take any tree over a theme park.

The Miami Herald and Broward County's Sun-Sentinel have detailed exactly what Blockbuster has in store for us. The billion-dollar, ten-year project will gobble up some 2500 acres west of Miramar on both sides of the county line. To top it off, Huizenga has also proposed legislation that would allow him to run the park as his own governmental fiefdom. Twice as much land around the proposed site is owned by companies that, the Herald reports, will likely develop there as well. The Blockbuster Sports and Entertainment Complex could spearhead the development of an entire city.

That's what will be there in coming years. Joe Podgor, the executive director of Friends of the Everglades, lives not far from the proposed Blockbuster site. He contends that the area is very much alive -- and worth preserving. Podgor rattles off a list of studies and master plans that have shown the area to be ecologically important. "Wildlife is beside the point," he argues. "If you think that's enough of a reason to protect this area, wait'll you see how important the water is. We're talking about money and drinking water."

The problem is that South Florida does not have enough clean drinking water for its people. Period. And South Florida, especially Broward County, is experiencing population growth. So even more water will be required. When the water from the Wayne's World location will be needed the most, there'll be a theme park there instead; to make matters worse, Podgor says, taxpayers might be turning over a half-billion dollars to Blockbuster in payments to build the stadiums, and in new utility services and roads. Blockbuster lobbyist Ron Book declines to speculate on such costs, but he's open-minded enough to say he has "no objections" to local governments building and owning the sports venues. Dade County has already spent $3.9 million to buy portions of the land from the state for Huizenga's use.

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