As the current partial government shutdown wages on, one of the contrasts of this iteration with the last major standoff in 2013 has been the remaining accessibility to parks and public lands. Allowing visitors in the parks without adequate National Park Service oversight has brought mixed results. While travelers may be thankful the parks have been left open, reports are only mounting of popular areas overrun with trash, human waste, and destruction that have led to public comment for their closure. For concessionaires, such as paddling outfitters within federal boundaries, whose businesses rely solely on the accessibility of the national parks, a complete closure would spell lights out.
"We would have to shut down completely," says Dillion Thompson, store manager of Flamingo Marina in Florida Everglades National Park. Flamingo Marina is a 37-mile drive from the eastern park entrance. Its the end of the road, in the southwest corner of a 1.5 million-acre plot of public wetland. From there the entirety of the "river of grass" is to the north, and a waterfront view of the sprawling, sandy-bottomed Florida Bay to the south. Flamingo Marina offers paddlers canoe and kayak rentals, a campground, store, and paddler drop-offs to nearby reaches. At this stage, parks across the country are operating on a case by case basis. Should the Everglades, which sees 1 million annual visitors, reach a scenario where it would be forced to close, not only would the marina shut down, but so would access to one of the country's most sought-after winter paddling retreats.
During the busiest season of the year, it's a situation the marina and Thompson would obviously like to avoid, and are monitoring the status closely. "We talk to the head of the park service here every day."
So just how is the Flamingo Marina ensuring the Everglades keep running? By picking up the slack on the Flamingo usage area's day-to-day infrastructure while park service staff have been halted on furlough. Everything from emptying the trash, to cleaning restrooms, and acting as liaisons for park visitors. "A lot of it has become our responsibility," says Thompson. "It's been a little more chaotic lately," Thompson adds in reference to directing travelers in lieu of park service presence. "People do not have information. We are the only thing open, so it gets busy." Flamingo Marina is by no means acting alone in the massive park, other concessionaires are doing their part, as well as volunteers, and nonprofit organizations, such as the South Florida National Parks Trust and Florida National Parks Association, as reported in the Miami Herald, are providing resources and personnel to keep the parks running as adequately as possible – even staffing visitor centers and bookstores. Encouragingly, Thompson states, "As long as we can take care of it, they will keep the Everglades open."
As bannered across the top of its website, Flamingo Marina can not state clearly enough, "We are open," for business. For paddlers looking to visit the Flamingo region, Thompson recommends starting out by launching right off the marina into the Buttonwood Canal, claiming its a good introduction to the Everglades where you won’t get lost, and will see birds and crocodiles everyday. For paddlers more attuned to the intricacies of paddling the park, Thompson recommends Hell's Bay, a personal-favorite maze through the mangroves. Perhaps most importantly though, Thompson asks visitors to the Everglades during our current shutdown to do their part. "We ask everyone to pack out whatever they bring in, and we appreciate any help with picking up garbage."