Friday, May 20, 2011
"SAVING ST. AUGUSTINE" -- Folio Weekly Backpage Editorial by Faye Armitage
St. Augustine’s small-town Spanish Colonial charm is in
danger of being ruined by schlock. We love St. Augustine
and must preserve the beauty of endangered Matanzas Inlet
sunsets, Anastasia Island beach mice, nesting leatherback
turtles, soaring families of bald eagles and frolicking schools
of manatees and whales. Florida’s First Coast deserves a first
class National Park for the 500th anniversary of Spanish
Florida (in 2013) and 450th anniversary of St. Augustine
The late U.S. Speaker of the House
Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and Edward
Boland of Massachusetts made history in
1958, courageously working to protect
Cape Cod’s charm forever. Boland returned
in 1958 from a trip to Cape Hatteras
National Seashore. Within a fortnight, the
two Massachusetts Democrats introduced
the Cape Cod National Seashore Act
(backed by John F. Kennedy only after he
Commercial interests thought that a
national seashore would be bad for business.
They were wrong. Today we scoff at
the quaint story of O’Neill and Boland
being hung in effigy and booed in the Cape
Cod towns of Wellfleet and Truro, where
citizens, in their annual town meetings,
voted against the bill.
Even JFK, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
author of “Profiles in Courage,” feared local
commercial interests in Massachusetts
when it came to proposing a national
seashore. JFK later came aboard as president,
to consider the National Seashore the
best thing he ever did for Massachusetts.
Today’s visitors to Cape Cod come from
around the world to partake of its charm,
marshes, woodlands, beaches and towns
that were saved thanks to the vision of
Congressmen O’Neill and Boland.
A St. Augustine National Park was first
proposed before World War II. The idea is
five years older than President Harry S Truman’s
national health insurance proposal.
And as with national health care, Congress
too often resembles a herd of turtles trying
to write a symphony. It’s somewhat understandable
that our two busy U.S. Senators
(and Representative John Luigi Mica)
haven’t introduced a National Historical
Park, Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway.
Legislation moves glacially, except in emergencies.
We have one now.
Our local economy is in a state of emergency.
Businesses are dying. We’re ready for
Congress to stimulate our economy and
preserve our way of life by enacting a St.
Augustine National Historical Park,
Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway Act,
supported by a diverse group of citizens,
from octogenarian environmental activist
Robin Nadeau to former Republican
County Commission Chairperson John
Sundeman to St. Augustine Democratic
Club Chairperson Jeanne Moeller, among a
growing group of people concerned about
the declining quality of the tourist experience
in St. Johns County.
A National Historical Park would preserve
and protect St. Augustine’s historic
downtown with the dignity and experience
of the National Park Service, just as parts of
Boston, New Bedford, Philadelphia and
other historic cities are preserved. It would
step into the breach left by the Florida legislature,
Secretary of State, University of
Florida and city of St. Augustine, all of
whom have been unable to repair crumbling
buildings and historic monuments. A
national historical park would preserve
downtown streets and reduce congestion,
improving the tourist experience and making
it one that longer-staying (and biggerspending)
historic and environmental
tourists will enjoy.
A national historic park managed by the
National Park Service would portray history
and nature accurately, as done in Virginia’s
Colonial Williamsburg and the
Colonial National Historical Parkway.
There could also be a National Civil Rights
and Indigenous History Museum, aimed at
telling the region’s story of 11,000 years of
human history, honoring Native Americans,
African-Americans and the Civil
Rights movement here, which helped win
adoption of national antidiscrimination
laws in 1964. The struggles on St. Augustine’s
streets and beaches, including the
arrest of Massachusetts Governor Endicott
Peabody’s mother and Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., need to be retold and told well.
soldiers monument in St. Augustine’s Plaza
de la Constitucion, paying tribute to Civil
Rights Era activists whose efforts helped
break the Senate logjam and enact basic
A national seashore and coastal parkway
designation would protect the coast from
uglification, as at other national seashores.
We have 61 miles of coast here, and the
transfer from county to federal jurisdiction
would save local tax monies and make environmental
protection a priority on beaches
where turtles land to give birth, and where
beach mice and other critters scamper.
In September, watch Ken Burns’ PBS
documentary “Our National Parks: America’s
Best Idea.” Think of how uplifting it
will be to be able to drive from Ponte Vedra
to Marineland as a tourist or resident,
secure in the knowledge that the beaches
will survive and not be turned into some
unreasonable facsimile of Miami.
Think of the economic efficiency and
environmental benefits of entrusting city
and county parks, seashore water management
district land and at least five state
parks (including Anastasia and Guana-
Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine
Reserve) to one world-class organization
(the National Park Service) to protect, preserve
and interpret, rather than allowing
the land to be ripped apart by greed.
Think of the good jobs that will encourage
young people to stay here, working as
National Park Service employees and contractors.
Think of historic interpreters and
environmental tour guides who are
rewarded with a federal showcase, inviting
the world to a world-class destination.
Let’s enlist Congress and the president
to help us tell our region’s rich history —
including the story of the Indians, African-
American slaves and Minorcan and Greek
indentured servants (who escaped to St.
Augustine from New Smyrna Beach, “voting
with their feet” against slavery by contract.
Indentured servitude was outlawed
along with regular slavery with the 13th
Amendment in 1865.
Think of how our tourist economy will
be stimulated and jobs created and preserved
by preserving the stunning vistas
that draw people here, not uglifying them
with massive high-rises, suburban sprawl
and unsafe homes built in wetlands.
Think of how fourth-graders now and
in the future, from all over Florida, will be
rewarded for their studies of Florida history
by helping preserve “the real Florida” — St.
Augustine and St. Johns County — forever.
It is up to us to learn from the young
and to protect Northeast Florida for families,
flora, fauna and the future. Visit
staugustgreen.com for more information
and let your neighbors and national and
local leaders know what you think.
Faye Armitage lives in Fruit Cove. In 2008,
she ran against nine-term Congressional
incumbent John Mica, receiving nearly 150,000 votes.