Everglades City airboat captains fear for businesses after land acquisition

Reporter: Michelle Alvarez Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

One of the most popular sources of tourism in Everglades City could be in danger.

The South Florida Water Management District met this week for public input on land use for 11,000 acres just west of the Barron River, where Everglades City commercial airboat companies now run tour operations.

This could put airboat tour operators and businesses nearby in a bad spot.

Business owners understand change is inevitable but believe there’s enough land for everyone to use, share and conserve.

Many of these airboat tour companies have been here for decades and are family-owned, so the last thing they want is to see any of it disappear.

Mark Hickman is a captain at Captain Jack’s airboat tours in Everglades City. He said this is more than a business for people: it’s their livelihood.

“It’s also the engine that drives this town in general. There are 352 residents in Everglades City,” Hickman said. “We have a handful of restaurants and a handful of shops and businesses. Those shops and businesses are dependent on all the tourists we bring into town.”

He said businesses and locals are concerned about the future of this small community they love so much.


“Employment opportunities would definitely evaporate, and that would leave a lot of folks here in a middle-class town faced with an unaffordable commute to somewhere like Naples or outside of town here. All we have left is commercial fishing, which there’s not very much left of, and tourism,” Hickman said.

Aaron Tabor and David Ardelean own the Parkway Hotel Marina, and Havana Café. They said their businesses thrive off people who come here, specifically for airboat tours.

“All the restaurants in town will suffer because of it,” Tabor said.

People in the area said the airboat tourism industry is a massive economic engine for their pocket of the state.

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