The following has been posted by Jimmy Orth, Executive Director of St. Johns Riverkeeper.
We have been blessed with an absolutely beautiful day as we begin the spring Eco-Heritage Boat Trips. This is the type of day that you dream of - blue skies, soft breeze, glassy waters, mild temperatures and low humidity, and an abundance of wildlife all around. We are only on day one, and we have already seen limpkins, alligators, and a manatee. As usual, Trout Creek is a delight to the senses and a reminder of what we have to lose. You hope that generations to come will be able to experience this creek as it is today. As much as we discuss the problems that are impacting our river and focus on what ails it, the river and its tributaries still support a tremendous amount of wildlife and much beauty still remains.
However, the impending growth and development that is projected to besiege our state may change our river for the worse, if we don't change course now. I spoke with one of the passengers, Bill Basford, at lunch, and we both agreed that the river as we know it today will most likely not remain the same for much longer. I thought about this realization and the dilemma that we are faced with. Can we sustainably accommodate the enormous growth that is projected, - a doubling of our state population by 2060? Will we be able to restore the health of our river, or at least maintain its current state of health - impaired but still sustaining life and providing significant economic and recreational benefits?
I am often nostalgic for how I remember the way things once were - the woods where I used to play as a child where houses now stand, an old marina where I used to buy bait that has since succumbed to soaring land values, my favorite local fish camp now filled with transplants and tourists, or the beautiful canopied back road that is now lined with strip malls and towering billboards. I long for the culture, charm, character, flora and fauna that seem to be withering away from my home and birthplace, as we seem to be intent on fulfilling Patrick Smith's prophecy of Florida as a land remembered. I don't want to one day have to reminisce about and long for the river of today, one that is polluted and, in many measures, in decline. I don't want to ever have to say, "At least we used to be able to eat fish on occasion and swim in some parts of its waters with precaution."
Even though our river has its problems and its health must be improved, we are still fortunate to have undeveloped and pristine sections along the river where we can catch a glimpse of our river in its natural state. We still have so much worth fighting for. Despite the challenges that lie ahead of us, my spirit has not been dampened and I am certainly not ready to give up. In fact, the wonders of the river that I am experiencing on this trip make me more determined than ever to protect our river and our quality of life. I am optimistic that we can successfully and sustainably coexist with our river and our natural world, but it will require that we put an end to the status quo. Business as usual has run its course. Let's use our American ingenuity and resolve to craft a new vision and path for our state and for our river. Let's not settle for fond memories or a polluted river. Let us settle for nothing less than a clean, healthy and vibrant St. Johns.