Construction of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Visitor Center in the Everglades will begin
The National Park Service awarded a new construction contract for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Visitor Center project in Everglades National Park, after assessing that there would be no significant impact on the environment.
Allyson Gantt with the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks provided details of the new project.
"This project is going to include an entire site redevelopment of the area that the National Park Service has right there in Everglades City," Gantt said. "It's going to include a new two-story building. We're going to be raising the entire site, so to build in some resiliency for climate change impacts like sea level rise. We're also going to be expanding and dredging the marina and replacing the existing bulkheads. We've got plans to improve the kayak, launch, the kayak launch, and then there'll be a new, separate building for canoe and kayak rentals."
A new public entrance road, enhanced pedestrian walkways, outdoor seating, native landscaping and shoreline stabilization are also part of the plan.
Gantt said the new visitor center is actually long-awaited, and will replace the old visitor’s center destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
"That was designated as a temporary visitor center for a very long time, and it was very much a part of our plans to build a new one and name it after Marjory Stoneman Douglas," she said. "It was actually authorized by Congress in 1989 as part of the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act."
The construction of a new visitor center, an improved canoe-kayak launch, and improved existing parking areas were identified in the park’s 2015 Final General Management Plan.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 - May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development, according to her Wikipedia page. Her conservation work regarding the Everglades can be read in her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, which came out in 1947, the same year Everglades National Park officially opened. In 1986, the National Parks Conservation Association established the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award, which "honor(s) individuals who often must go to great lengths to advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System."
Because of its unique ecosystem of marshes and mangroves, which host a wide-range of flora and tropical fauna, the Everglades was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and World Heritage Site in 1979.
Starting later this month, on Sept. 30 boat tours and rentals will cease at the Everglades City location with the hopes to resume in the fall of 2024. Gantt said construction will take two years to complete, with the exception of interruptions like hurricanes and other delays.
"We will be doing some pieces of it in stages," she said. "For example, the canoe and kayak launch will remain open through April 1, 2024 for those important visitors who use the launch for boating and going into the back country. Then, after that we will be closing that area for additional construction work."
The National Park Service will maintain a presence on site, said Gantt.
"Even for the winter season, we will maintain a visitor contact station there. So there will still be staff to help answer questions and orient visitors. But we'll be posting more information on our website about all of these changes as they come."
To review the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significance for this project, visit the NPS Planning, Environment & Public Comment (PEPC) site at parkplanning.nps.gov/gulfcoast.
Follow the changes at nps.gov/ever.
Copyright 2023 WGCU.