What a Day! In the Park with the President 


"Thank you for all the new monuments, Mr. President, especially Pullman," I said to our beloved leader.


It's an hour's drive on the highway from our boat to Everglades National Park, and the entire way I was filled with contentment and anticipation. I love driving with Frank and today we would not only get to feel the beauty of Everglades but also get to see and hear our President. From the moment the invitation came a day earlier, I felt like I was living in another dimension.


Arriving at the transfer point to get on buses for the event, I spotted a bunch of people we know from working on the Everglades restoration project - Jonathan  Ullman and  Frank Jackalone from the Sierra Club; Eric Draper from Audubon, Supt. Carlstrom from Biscayne and Billy Causey from the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. We hopped on the luxury transport bus alongside DEL speaker Irela Bague, and proceeded to the park entrance where agents looked under the vehicles and had drivers open the hood.


Had a chance to converse with the wonderful Chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, Colley Billey, and besides discussing the River of Grass he noticed my Navajo-made earrings, which made me happy that I'm carrying part of their story on my ears.


The feelings of old home week persisted as we immediately ran into one of the Everglades' leading advocates Mary Barley, whose foundation is a leading voice for restoring the ecosystem. The Elder Statesman of the Everglades Nat Reid was holding court with reporters, distilling a lifetime of wisdom. Beloved Ranger Sabrina Diaz and environmental educator  Paula Nelson Shokar were among those doing duty on the security screening line. 


The parking lot was full of media trucks. Staff guided us to a place behind the administration buildings that I'd never seen before, though I've been to this park too many times to count. It faced directly out onto an expanse of the 'Glades, and the President's podium with its Presidential Sea was poised squarely in the middle of the view. I snagged a seat directly in front of the President and three rows back, and waited with the most delicious anticipation.



I can't tell who's more  proud and happy - Superintendent Pedro Ramos or his beautiful young daughter.


I was most excited because I couldn't see our friend Ranger Alan Scott anywhere, which meant he was likely leading the President's tour. As Chief of Resource Protection and Interpretation, it's Ranger Scott's job to explain the history, ecology and future of the park whether to the President or a fourth grader. Ranger Scott has been the park's representative on the South Florida Community Partners program and has been working alongside us for 15 years to connect the parks and local communities. I knew the President would be having the time of his life.


 Young Christopher Ramos is on a mission to Save the Everglades and has already raised more than $3000 through his GoFundMe Campaign. See his blog here and we had a moment together with Bill Nye the Science Guy.


Rain threatened several times, and we all held our breath lest we be rained out. But the sun kept shining and around 3 p.m. a huge Secret Service agent stepped up and took his position near the podium. Then our beloved Ranger Scott came out and I ran to him. He said yes, he'd been on the Anhinga Trail with the President. Bill Nye the Science Guy came out next and I introduced him to my new young famous friend, Christopher Ramos (no relation to Everglades Supt. Pedro Ramos) who's raised more than $3000 for the park. Ever the geek, Bill Nye took my impaired phone and got us this selfie. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis came next and while I was snapping a photo of him and Frank, the President's music started up.


    Frank and NPS Director Jon Jarvis catching up.


He came strolling around the side of the building, loping across the grass and bounding up on the platform To our whoops and cheers and screams of course. I couldn't believe the President was standing there three arm's lengths away from me.


He spoke about his pleasure at being in the 'Glades, being on the trail and meeting fourth graders.


"They were very excited," he said. "Not to see me, to see the alligators!" he quipped.



 President Obama and fourth graders from the Dante Fascell  Elementary school high five each other on the Anhinga Trail. The President announced that all fourth graders  in the country will be given passes to the national parks that also covers  entry for family members.


He talked about the threats of climate change and said that climate change is real, it is here and now. He mentioned the health impacts that doctors are already seeing, and the threat to our national security from increasing disruption due to weather. He said it is urgent for us to address climate change and make preparations.


'When there's a storm coming you don't stick your head in the sand, you prepare," said the President.


He said that a far larger proportion of our energy comes from clean sources than in 2008, and that we must continue to increase renewable fuels.


"When you put on the brakes in your car it doesn't come to an immediate stop," he said, illustrating that the process takes time.


A beautiful bright yellow butterfly fluttered behind the President as he announced the creation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas National Monument which will add the home of the Mother of the Everglades to the National Park System. He said that national parks are an incredible boost for our economy as every dollar invested by the federal government in the parks provides a $10 return.


"I am not a big investor, but I think those are very good returns," the President said.



Our newest Park Ranger Bryan Palacio is convinced that he's got the best job in the world - and no doubt Director Jarvis thinks that as well.



When he stepped down off the podium to greet the 75-or so people eagerly waiting to meet him, I was beside myself. Miraculously I was in the front row, and I said to the Secret Service agent beside the President, "I've got to get a picture with the President and shake his hand."


"OK, why don't you give your camera to the young lady behind you and ask her to take your picture?" Duh.


 When the President approached me, eyes gleaming, teeth sparkling, the most beautiful strong gentle presence, I was agape.


"Hello," he said, "How are you?"


"Wonderful, Mr. President," "Thank you for creating all the new monuments and Pullman in particular."


His smile widened and he continued to Frank who was standing next to me. "Hello, sir," the President said respectfully. Frank says he can't remember what he said because he was so emotional, thinking how his dad would have given anything to meet a black President.

How appropriate that an Anhinga, among the oldest species of birds, should be flying overhead as President Obama strolls the Anhinga Trail flanked by Supt. Ramos and  Ranger Alan Scott.



When the meeting broke up we resolved that we'd never wash our hands again that had touched the President. Of course that couldn't last very long. But the President 's  youthfulness and warmth, his childlike exuberance and  his gentle warmth and respectfulness for every person he met will cause this experience to live in my heart and my feelings forever. What a perfect way to celebrate Mother Earth!




 We're never washing these hands, me and Ranger Sabrina Diaz vow.



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