There’s alligator wrestling and airboat rides for tourists, unrestricted 24 /7 boat ramps for local anglers and hunters, a general store and a bait shop that seem closer to Mayberry than Weston.
That’s the way it should be. At the western end of Griffin Road past U.S. 27, it’s old-time Florida, the Everglades in all its unspoiled and swampy glory.
Broward County originally wanted nothing to do with the place. After being given the land by a farmer in the 1960s, the county leased the land to the state. The state has sublet the park to various concessionaires. Since 1982, the Bridges family of Fort Lauderdale has run it. Their lease expires in 2012.
This is one case where privatization seems to work. The public gets free access to bass fishing, frog and duck hunting, and tourists pay the freight with $21 airboat rides. The Bridges turn a profit and give an annual cut to the state. The state’s share ranges from $100,000 to $400,000, according to Chuck Collins, the south regional director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
There’s just one problem.
It’s the county’s land, but Broward doesn’t get a cent.
I suppose another way of looking at it is the county doesn’t have to spend a cent, either.
“If they have a problem with not getting a cut, I told them we’d work with them,” Clint Bridges said Wednesday. “If they just gave us a lease extension, I’d pay for all the improvements they want. They wouldn’t have to get their hands wet or do a damn thing, other than go to the mailbox and pick up their check.”
But Broward has something more involved in mind.
The county has explored getting the park back from the state. It has hired consultants and held public workshops. There’s talk of expensive refurbishments, new boat ramps and docks. There’s also talk of a $10 million Everglades museum and replica 1880’s village, seeded by developer Ron Bergeron and run by a nonprofit organization.
“A public-private venture,” Bergeron said Wednesday. “Obviously we’d need a certain amount of participation from the county.”
I hear talk like this, and I get a little clammy.
Especially when you consider the planning firm working on this is URS Corp., the same people who’ve done such a bang-up job with the airport expansion.
Especially when you consider Bergeron sits on the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which might have to approve the county takeover.
“I probably would recuse myself