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Everglades National Park may ground most airboats

A river of grass describes the Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park. (UPI Photo/Michael Bush)
A river of grass describes the Royal Palm area of the Everglades National Park. (UPI Photo/Michael Bush) | License Photo

MIAMI, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Everglades National Park in South Florida has stopped issuing new permits for private airboats and plans to phase out the watercraft in the next two decades.

Private tour operators along the Tamiami Trail, the highway that runs along the northern border of the National Park from Miami to the Everglades City area, would be converted to park concessionaires, the Miami Herald reported. Airboat tours would only be allowed in a small area just south of the trail.

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The plan has not yet been formally adopted. If it is approved next year, most of the East Everglades would become a designated wilderness area.

Airboats, flat-bottomed vessels powered by an aircraft propellor linked to an engine, first appeared in the Everglades in the 1930s. They have become a South Florida icon, with an airboat appearing in the opening credits of the television show "CSI Miami."

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Airboats already are banned from most of the park, including Florida Bay, the National Park Service said. They have been permitted in the East Everglades, an area that was added to the park in 1989.

Anyone who can show they had a permit in 1989 will be grandfathered in, the Herald said. But longtime "Gladesmen" are still angry about the proposal, which would limit them to designated trails in the East Everglades.

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Park officials say they are trying to balance the rights of airboat owners, tour operators, tourists who want airboat rides and park visitors who want to canoe or hike without hearing the boats. But Keith Price, president of the Airboat Association of Florida, said the area has never really been a pristine wilderness with human activity going back long before the park was established.

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"There's something that's been here longer than the park's been here and that's Gladesmen culture," Price said. "We don't want to destroy something we want to share with our children and grandchildren. We're just trying to hang onto our rights."

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