The roseate spoonbills appeared at the midpoint of the festive groundbreaking ceremony at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk the morning of December 7. Someone shouted “Spoonbills!” and everyone’s gaze shifted from the speaker’s podium to the skies above.
High in the bright blue morning sky, glowing pink from the sun behind them, a pair of roseate spoonbills glided in silent formation above the Fakahatchee. The words of the speakers at the ceremony were eloquent, but the silent presence of the birds above spoke volumes about the importance of the project far below them.
For the day, the abandoned road east of the boardwalk entrance took on a festive air complete with assisted parking, coffee, rolls, fruit, programs, display boards and shiny groundbreaking shovels ready to plunge into piles of imported earth.
Before the program, members of the Friends of Fakahatchee mingled with Fakahatchee park staff, representatives from other nature groups, tourism and local political officials and returned snowbird friends. The formal program was a testament to the coalition of state and local officials and dedicated FOF volunteers that was necessary to keep the project alive and finally get it off the ground.
One name mentioned by every speaker was Tom Maish, former FOF president and the man who championed the project for the past thirteen years.
“…a great success and thanks for all your work on this project and event. Very exciting for Fakahatchee after all these years!”
– Former President Patty Huff
FOF President Patrick Higgins welcomed attendees to “a momentous day for the Friends, the Park, the county and the state. He said the project, which includes safe parking, restrooms, a bridge across the canal and the park’s first interpretive center, “would have a significant economic impact on the county.”
Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala told the group that “tourism focusing on the environment” is the wave of the future. “The enthusiasm for this project that the Friends of Fakahatchee volunteers expressed was beautiful,” she said. “I just opened the door.”
State Senator Kathleen Passidomo praised the strong partnership between the park service and the FOF. She said she was convinced of the need for improvements when she saw people trying to cross US 41 on foot from the existing parking lot on the other side of the road. When she discussed the project with the Friends, she said she was “blown away” by the plan, asking “how much do you need?”
Keynote speaker Eric Draper, director of the Florida Park System, told attendees “look around at this remarkable state park. That’s the real keynote today.” After praising the contributions of Tom and Judy Maish at Corkscrew Swamp and the Fakahatchee, he told the group “we walk in the footsteps of other leaders like Mel Finn, Nathanial Reed, Franklin Adams and Jane Parks. Without their individual efforts years ago, where we are standing today could well have been another Cape Coral…Instead you are laying more footsteps— building a place where visitors will be inspired to protect land in our great state of Florida.”
Moments later, eleven dignitaries lined up and grasped their shovels. As they tossed clumps of soil into the air, cameras and cellphones captured the symbolic scene.
“Congratulations on putting together a truly memorable event… The FOF is a remarkable organization and a template for CSO’s around the state.
As pressures mount threatening our environmental integrity, the health, sustainability, and continued growth of our Park System is crucial. Eric Draper and I have been through many wars together, and I know that he was much impressed by, one, the quality of staff, and, two, the turnout of members. Again, well done.”
– Former President John Elting