Meet the Miami Park Activists Shouldering the Government Shutdown

Environmental consultant Rainer Shael and his wife — Palmer Trinity School dean Noel Shael — each year lead over 250 families to Everglades National Park for an overnight with an effort to introduce the activity of camping out in our precious lands. In addition to arts & crafts, a campfire and a cookout, there are the government funded ranger programs.

“A lot of these people are first time park users,” says Schael. “People don’t realize we have all these national parks on the borders of our city. To expose them to this precious resource is incredible.”

But a government shutdown even a short one has the power to cripple such family services, as theyre run by employees who can sometimes travel here especially for the season and cant afford to go without paychecks. But now even with the shutdown — national parks in Miami and the surrounding areas have remained open, clean and safe over the recent holiday thanks to two local organizations, South Florida National Parks Trust and Florida National Parks Association. Both groups have been providing support with volunteer workers to the areas four national parks: Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park in Homestead, Drytortugas National Park, which is a cluster of islands 70 miles west of Key West, and Big Cypress National Park in Collier County.

People plan vacations sometimes years in advance, says Don Finefrock, executive director of the South Florida National Parks Trust, which has since 2002 raised money for activities such as educational programs, conservation projects, ranger programs for national parks. If the parks were all closed, all that planning would go out the window. So now the government keeps the parks open, but with a skeletal staff. Without volunteers, the parks would be trashed.

Thankfully, the two, non-profit friends groups step in and pick up where the furloughed government funding leaves off. Finefrock, for his part, credits the Florida National Parks Association not his own — for doing the real heavy lifting, as that organization runs each of the four bookstores year-round, anyway. When a shut down occurs, it steps in to keep visitors centers open, and to bring on additional volunteers, pay utilities and to keep the bathrooms open, clean, and trash-free. Still his own is widely respected, raising over $7 million since its inception and today supported by the Bachelor Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and many high-net worth individuals, boasting a board that includes attorney Wayne Rassner, Circuit Judge Timothy J. Koeng, financial manger Ellen Siegel, and City of Miami Beach Manger Jimmy Morales. On the Florida National Parks Associations Board is South Dade News publisher Dale Machesic, dentist Frank J. Spinelli, philanthropist Lacey Hoover and captain Franklin Adams.

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