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Everglades' old guard girds for county park fight

Many county parks also charge access fees, while there are none at Everglades Holiday Park.

As the county gauges public opinion about plans for the park, Clint Bridges hopes to keep its staunchest users in his corner. "I'm going to keep the Gladesmen's interests first," he says, sounding a bit like a candidate for public office. "I have a financial interest here, but the truth is, I was a fisherman before I was a business owner."

It may be hard to keep the Gladesmen galvanized behind his family's management of the park, however. After the June 27 meeting, Harbin, the Parks and Recreation director, realized that his agency may be able to offer the best of both worlds: infrastructure and facility improvements to the existing park as well as a continuation of the 24/7 access that is key to the hearts of sportsmen.

The Bridges have 14 airboats like this one, but the family business depends on Everglades Holiday Park.
The Bridges have 14 airboats like this one, but the family business depends on Everglades Holiday Park.

"That's up for discussion," Harbin says of all-hours access. "There's a large group that is spreading rumors that we'll shut [the park] down for certain hours. That's not necessarily true. Our interest is in public access, and if they want 24-hour access, I have no problem as Broward Parks and Recreation director recommending that."

Still, if airboat rides and alligator shows have proved lucrative, won't the county be inclined to contract with the same family that assumed the risk and has succeeded so far?

Clint hopes so. "It's going to be beneficial for them to have someone in the park to actually do these things, as opposed to taking on more financial weight," he says.

The county would have to put that contract out to competitive bid, however. And that could pit the Bridges against a new threat, such as the Seminole Tribe, which already has an airboat business on Alligator Alley. Should Seminole members wish to branch out, they'd have the resources to swamp operators like the Bridges.

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