How We’re Making Florida’s National Parks More Accessible

Florida’s national parks may seem just down the road for many of us, but for others, they are worlds away.

Here at The Alliance, we are passionate about bridging this gap between people and Florida’s public lands. We know that exposure to natural places and immersion in natural settings can be powerful healing and restorative experiences for individuals coping with the stresses of everyday life or working though even greater physical, mental, or emotional challenges.

This year, we are supporting a pilot program with Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley District to provide access to underserved and marginalized Miami-area communities to one of the most popular destinations within the park. Because this magical place where the gators gather isn’t reserved for only a select few. These groups include homeless shelters, migrant worker groups, mental health facilities, rehabilitation/recovery centers, senior living communities, and adult disability centers.

Through this program, we tackle the biggest barriers that block these communities from visiting the park – transportation from the city to the park, entrance fees, and the cost of the tram tour – so that people can have a day of respite and personal restoration, as well as receive the personal attention of the rangers.

The Purpose of Shark Valley Community Outreach

To establish and strengthen relationships with local community groups

To provide top-notch interpretation and education experiences for the local populations that are often underrepresented

To connect local individuals to public lands

To promote physical and mental wellness through experiences in nature

To build a foundation of community wellness centered around natural parks and green spaces as tools for personal growth and empowerment

The program recently welcomed a group of adventurous seniors to Shark Valley and while they were excited to spend the day in the Everglades, most simply do not have the transportation means to visit the park on their own, even though their senior living community was just a mere 40 miles away.

The Miami accents of hometowners mingled with the subtle notes of German from other, but whether they had been in the area for decades or simply for a short time, many had one thing in common: this was their very first time visiting the Everglades.

And as if the visit to Shark Valley itself wasn’t enough, this group was treated to a very special presentation. Sandy Dayhoff, a beloved ranger of Everglades National Park for more than 30 years and former resident of Big Cypress National Preserve, came out of retirement for the afternoon to lead the tour herself.

Having dedicated so many years of both her personal and professional life to the greater Everglades, there is no one that quite knows this park like Sandy and all of the visitors left that day as lifelong lovers of the Everglades.

Sandy Dayhoff with Ranger Yvette Cano, Director of Education for Everglades National Park

Creating strong bonds between our local communities and Florida’s national parks is the greatest way to secure their future. Programs like this are only possible with your help. Please donate today!

PS: This week is National Park Week! Click here to find out how Everglades National Park is celebrating!