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  • Brady Stroh

River of Grass

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Most people outside of South Florida will probably not recognize the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Sadly, if they do, it is likely in connection with the horrific February 14, 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. If you’ve ever visited the Florida Everglades you have witnessed her astonishing imprint.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Florida began a transformation from its perception as a marshy, swampy “wasteland” inhabited only by various nations of Native Americans, to a massive economic juggernaut driven in large part by a fellow named Henry Flagler. If you’ve ever been to the Florida East Coast, chances are you’ve heard Flagler’s name. Les Standiford’s book, Last Train to Paradise, documents Flagler’s journey from co-founder of Standard Oil to developer of Florida hotels and the Florida East Coast Railway. He set the stage for the South Florida development boon which continues to this day.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a talented Wellesley College trained writer, evolved as a tireless advocate of the Everglades by demonstrating the critical importance of what she called “the river of grass.” She began her work in South Florida by becoming a journalist at her father’s newspaper, The Miami Herald. She covered the society beat — not exactly the kind of writing she aspired to. But it was a job and it gave her access to the movers and shakers of Miami society. She quickly learned about the tremendous economic and political forces that were driving South Florida development, usually at the devastating expense of the natural environment and human populations. She challenged the fallout of the rampant development triggered by Flagler.

Her work to protect and preserve the South Florida ecosystem continued almost all the way to her passing at age 108. Her master piece book, The Everglades- River of Grass, captures the essence and the details of her impact on the Everglades as we know them today.

Her autobiography, Voice of the River, gives us a glimpse into the heart, the mind, and the intellect of this complex yet simple savior of the Everglades.

In completely different ways, with totally divergent mindsets and motivations, Flagler and Stoneman Douglas shaped the South Florida that we know today. Theirs's is a fascinating, often consuming, and sometimes infuriating story of the conflicting interests of economics, business, politics, privilege, pleasure, justice, and the protection of nature.

The efforts march on... (HOPE)

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