Ever­glades doc­u­men­tary ex­plores won­drous place

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Go! - By Hal Boedeker [email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com, Twit­ter: @tvguy­hal. In­sta­gram: TVGuy­Hal

Be­cause un­der­stand­ing the Ever­glades is cru­cial to liv­ing in Flor­ida, “The Swamp” is in­dis­pens­able view­ing.

The two-hour “Amer­i­can Ex­pe­ri­ence” doc­u­men­tary, de­but­ing at 9 p.m. Tues­day on PBS, pro­vides a his­tory les­son and a cel­e­bra­tion of the unique wilder­ness.

“A lot of Flor­ida ecol­ogy looks like no other state,” said Les­lie Poole, a Rollins Col­lege pro­fes­sor who ap­pears in the film. “It’s a sub­tle en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. The Ever­glades is filled with mosquitoes and ver­min. You have to be taught to ap­pre­ci­ate the Flor­ida en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ran­dall MacLowry, pro­ducer, di­rec­tor and writer of “The Swamp,” calls the Ever­glades “a won­drous and quite beau­ti­ful place.”

The film is based in part on Michael Grun­wald’s 2006 book “The Swamp: The Ever­glades, Flor­ida and the Pol­i­tics of Par­adise.” The film’s ti­tle, how­ever, is ironic.

“We’re try­ing through­out the film to ac­tu­ally de­bunk the idea the Ever­glades is a swamp. That was tra­di­tion­ally and his­tor­i­cally how it was seen,” MacLowry said.

Through maps, the film ex­plains the ecosys­tem. Fed by rain­fall, the wa­ters start their jour­ney to the Ever­glades just south of Or­lando. Yet in the late 1800s and early 20th cen­tury, wet­lands across the coun­try were seen as a men­ace to be drained, and the film ex­plains how Philadel­phia in­dus­tri­al­ist Hamil­ton Dis­ston was the first to try to drain the Ever­glades.

In 1881, Dis­ston bought four mil­lion acres from the state for $1 mil­lion. “I wanted a play­thing,” he said. He died a failed busi­ness­man in 1896 at age 51.

Gov. Napoleon Bon­a­parte Broward, who took of­fice in 1905, thought drain­ing the Ever­glades would be sim­ple. It wasn’t, but a mis­lead­ing fed­eral re­port helped spur land sales.

In 1911, many buy­ers ar­rived in Flor­ida to learn their land was still un­der wa­ter and that they had been swin­dled. “I have never bought land by the gal­lon,” one buyer said.

“The im­por­tant thing about the story, to a de­gree, is it is a bit of a cau­tion­ary tale,” MacLowry said. “There’s al­ways this de­sire to im­prove things. That was sort of the mantra that by de­vel­op­ing and drain­ing the Ever­glades that it would be im­prov­ing things.”

The film ex­am­ines the im­pact of the Tami­ami Trail, the 1920s boom, the hur­ri­canes of 1926 and 1928, the farm­ing in­dus­try and the bat­tles over the state’s drainage project. The Ever­glades also has in­spired tena­cious ac­tivism. The Flor­ida Fed­er­a­tion of Women’s Clubs fought to save Par­adise Key, 45 miles south of Mi­ami, and in 1916, Royal Palm State Park opened. It was the nu­cleus of Ever­glades Na­tional Park.

“It took peo­ple who rec­og­nized the value of the Ever­glades and who worked tire­lessly, some­times ob­ses­sively, to pro­tect a re­source a lot of peo­ple didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate,” said Poole, au­thor of “Sav­ing Flor­ida: Women’s Fight for the En­vi­ron­ment in the 20th Cen­tury.” “The women fight­ing to cre­ate the first state park couldn’t vote but ral­lied grass-roots ef­forts to cre­ate power. They were not go­ing to be de­terred. They teach us a lot of les­sons. If you want to get some­thing done, ap­ply con­stant pres­sure on de­ci­sion mak­ers to make a good de­ci­sion.”

Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas changed at­ti­tudes through her lyri­cal writ­ing and ex­haus­tive re­search in “The Ever­glades: River of Grass,” pub­lished in 1947. That same year, Ever­glades Na­tional Park was es­tab­lished. The film ends with stir­ring calls to pre­serve the Ever­glades.

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