Late last week, a great call went out among the bureaucracies to assemble behind an apparently innocuous, win-win plan: an automobile-free pathway cutting through the Everglades so that walkers and bikers can enjoy the quiet beauty of the park without concern. Who could be against that? It was perfect PR.
Problem is, protectionist organizations say, there are already loads of options for bikers to explore the park -- and this 75-mile pathway, which is expected to shoot beside the Tamiami Trail, is just another manifestation of bureaucratic waste that may damage one of the world's rarest ecosystems.
"What's the problem that we're trying to solve with this?" asked Dawn Shirreffs, program manager of Everglades Restoration. "There are numerous ways to access the Everglades' resources by foot and bicycle, and we need to consider whether adding more is worthwhile."
Already, the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade County, Collier County, and that National Park Service have gotten behind the pathway, the River of Grass Greenway.
They say the path will afford an opportunity for people to experience the Everglades without chugging more carbon gas into the environs -- you know, for the time you finally embark on that 75-mile walk you've been meaning to do for years.
It's unclear whether there will be any rest stops halfway through the path or some means to replenish one's rations while walkers "experience" all of the alligators, snakes, and absence of drinking water.
Indeed, the only part of the plan that's intended to affect the Everglades is the pathway itself, which will be paved and may become a "barrier" decreasing water flow to and fro, Shirreffs said.
"The overarching message is why would we take an activity that would degrade the ecosystem when cyclists can already go [elsewhere in the Everglades] and get a pristine view?" Shirreffs said. "Our first effort needs to encourage existing opportunities, not present more plans that will degrade the Everglades."
Organizers, who have already netted $5 million, say igniting public support is essential to getting this pathway done, which they hope to complete within the next few years.
Over the next month, there will be a series of workshops to pow-wow with the public.
Shirreff's offers one early idea: Don't do it.
The forests already have "miles and miles" of public trails, she said.