|By The Miami Herald, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 30, 2005 - The National Park Service's negative outlook on the chances of rebuilding Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park is astonishing. The lodge and cabins located in the park's southern end were inundated by hurricane flooding and wind this year. They were pretty humble abodes to begin with and now are unusable.
So what? This is Everglades National Park, the national treasure that the federal and state governments are spending $8 billion to replumb to bring more fresh, clean water into the park and to ensure South Florida's future water supply. More than one million visitors come to the park every year; many stayed at the lodge or in 12 nearby cabins. Of course the lodge should be rebuilt or replaced.
Keep basic amenity
Florida's Sens. Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jeb Bush should pressure the Interior Department to commit to rebuilding the lodge and then lobby Congress for the funding.
Park Service officials cite a tight federal budget and the high cost of storm proofing new lodgings. They are right about the budget problems. The Park Service has a needs deficit of more than $600 million for maintenance, construction and other programs.
That's because the Park Service has been consistently underfunded by Congress and the White House through several administrations, Democrat and Republican alike. This year, the Park Service needs an extra $150 million for hurricane recovery, to meet new homeland-security requirements, protect historic sites, etc. Money to rebuild Flamingo Lodge should be added to this request.
It's inconceivable that the federal government would not replace the tattered lodge. Without indoor accommodations, overnight visitors will be left to stay in tents or RVs, or in motels that are miles outside the park. The park will lose visitors without the basic amenity that the lodge and cabins provided, lowering its annual revenue. By not offering indoor lodgings, the park would undergo a basic change from a place that invites long-term visitors as well as day trips. Not everyone wants to sleep on the ground or in an RV. Just as at other great national parks -- Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon -- Everglades should offer visitors the full range of overnight options.
The accommodations need not rival a boutique hotel. Most Everglades visitors like the rustic nature of the cabins and lodge, built in 1959. Few improvements have been made to the buildings over the years, and, hurricanes or not, they should have been remodeled. Now, however, the plan should be to replace them with modest, storm-resistant facilities -- no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Copyright (c) 2005, The Miami Herald
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