Essay title: The Everglades – a Treasured River
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 â€“ May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, writer and environmentalist known for her staunch defense of the Florida Everglades against draining and development.
Moving to Miami as a young woman to work for The Miami Herald, Douglas became a freelance writer, producing over a hundred short stories that were published in popular magazines. Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp. Published the same year as the formal opening of Everglades National Park, the book was a call to attention about the degrading quality of life in the Everglades and continues to remain an influential book on nature conservation as well as a reference for information on South Florida. Its impact has been compared to that of the influential 1962 book Silent Spring. Douglaâ€™s books, stories, and journalism career brought her influence in Miami, which she used to advance her causes.Florida became a state in 1845 and almost immediately people began proposing to drain the Everglades. In 1848, a government report said that draining the Everglades would be easy, and there would be no bad effect. Canals and dams were dug to control seasonal flooding.
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Farmers grew vegetables in the rich soil of the drained land, Ranchers had their cattle graze on the dry land, and new railways lines were constructed to connect communities throughout south Florida; but the ecosystem of the Everglades was not suited for either farming or ranching. The natural cycle of dry and wet seasons brought a devastating series of droughts and floods. These had always been a part of the south Florida environment yet the people demanded protection from the seasonal cycle. A huge dam was built to hold back the flood waters of Lake Okeechobee. A concrete network of canals was designed to bring water from the lake area to surrounding farmland in the dry season.
Florida was becoming a booming area and more people came and more acres of the Everglades were cleared for farms, ranches, housing, roads, and railways. And more and more; the Everglades were dying (Miami Museum of Science, 1995).Douglas was quickly drawn into the debate over the future of the Everglades. Many people, including Florida's governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, were in favor of draining the Everglades. But others, like Frank Stoneman, disagreed.
Marjory's father, Frank Stoneman supported the preservation of the Glades, an idea that made the developers furious. He wanted this wilderness area to be left untouched. Her earliest notions about the Everglades came directly from her father. She became convinced that the Glades should be preserved in a natural state.
She joined a committee to establish the area as a national park, which would give the Everglades the protection of the federal government.Finally there was a public outcry for change. "Now that it was almost too late," wrote Marjory, "men began to realize that the water supply was never just a local problem. The Everglades were one vast unified harmonious whole in which the old subtle balance which was destroyed needed to be replaced or restored" (Bryant pg 57, 1992).A new, scientific study of the region recommended that the lower area of the Glades become a national park.
Marjory Douglas had campaigned for almost 20 years to convince the government to establish such a park.On December 6, 1947 President Harry S. Truman dedicated Everglades National Park. Although the boundaries of the park covered only a fraction of the Everglades ecosystem, most environmentalists were pleased to see at least a portion of the region protected. Marjory attended the open ceremonies of the dedication and that same year her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, was published after five years of dedication and research.It was Douglas who first observed that the Everglades were part of a much larger ecosystem, a network of water, weather, and wildlife.
And she saw that this network was a fragile and easily endangered one. "With less water in the Kissimmee River, there is less water for Lake Okeechobee, "she noted, "and less water to flow to the Everglades, and less water to evaporate into a rainfall to feed the river once again." "If the flow stops," she insisted, "it would mean the destruction of south Florida" (Douglas, 1997).The "River of Grass" actually begins in central and southern Florida when rainwater flows into the Kissimmee River which used to wander for a hundred miles through a wetland home for fish and water fowl. The Kissimmee River empties into Lake Okeechobee (the Native American name for "big water").
From there Lake Okeechobee spills out.