End of an era: Everglades airboats to be phased out

Author: cbs news
Published: Updated:
Airboat tours in the Everglades

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK- Some of the most familiar sights in Everglades National Park — the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the United States — are heading for extinction.

Keith Price is right at home riding on the river of grass. As president of the Airboat Association of Florida, he’s fighting for the rights of future generations.

“I’ll be one of the ones grandfathered in,” Price told CBS News.

He says he’s fighting for his kids to be grandfathered in as well.

For over 85 years, airboaters have used an 110,000 acre parcel of the Everglades as their playground. But in 1989, it was added to the Everglades National Park where airboating has been off limits.

For the last 26 years, airboaters have been fighting with the National Park Service. They want to pass along their hobby to their children and grandchildren. But Congress says, when they die, recreational airboating does too.

Twenty-one-year-old Taylor Rhodes says he’s grown up on airboats. Now, he’s among those who will be banned.

“It’s like a dying breed. My grandpa took me out here when I was a kid,” Rhodes told CBS News.

But John Adornato, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, says, “the Everglades National Park is not just the backyard of a few local folks.”

He believes the Everglades require Congressional protection.

“Airboats are loud and noisy machines that can run through the Everglades scaring birds out of their nests and leaving preferential pathways for water flow that wouldn’t naturally be there,” Adornato tells CBS News.

Using a Google map, Adornato showed CBS News the pathways airboats are creating — jeopardizing, he says, the health of the entire Everglades ecosystem.

But Price insists a ban is not necessary.

“Why not make us custodians of the Everglades. We were doing it before the National Park Service was here,” he says.

Price says the ashes of at least 30 airboaters are scattered there — and he’s not giving up.

“I haven’t lost until they throw a chain out there on the gate in front of my club and tell me I can’t go in any more. And even then, I’m still going to make enough noise to be heard,” Price told CBS News.

One thing that will continue on the Everglades, official government guided tours, which will be operated by the National Park Service.

There are almost a million other acres outside of the National Park that gladesmen are free to run their airboats. The rules go into effect as soon as October 1.

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