Every visit to Biscayne National Park is an adventure filled with charm, wonder and beauty. This is no surprise. Visitors have come to national parks for over a century in search of such things. This year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
No search is even needed. In national parks the wonders find you. "Wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge," said John Muir of the national parks. "The hours go by uncounted. The evening flames with purple and gold."
Biscayne National Park includes all the blessings that Muir wrote about in his national park visits from over 100 years ago; the wild beauty, colors, radiance, enchantment, inspiration, peace, thrills, rest, "vapor from the sea, the shining after rain, centuries of sunshine and the best care-killing scenery in the continent." There is the fragrance of forests, the sound of winds and birds, scenery, history, wildlife, solitude, night skies filled with stars, and much more. The wonders never cease.
While Biscayne National Park includes such wonders, it is also unique from other national parks. For one thing, the park is 95 percent water. Over 90 percent of the park's half million visitors come by boat. The best way to see the park is to get out on the water.
Yet being out on the water is not the only way to see the park. Nor is the land the limit. Air tour management agreements were recently signed that are providing park visitors with a new perspective on the park. Commercial air tour operators Miami Seaplane Tours and Wings are taking park visitors to a new level. The agreements are the result of a collaborative process among the National Park Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the operators.
"Biscayne is a sanctuary of reefs, turquoise waters, endangered wildlife, mangrove forests, historic landmarks and emerald islands for visitors to explore and enjoy," said Acting Superintendent Bob DeGross. "We fashioned the air tour agreements to ensure that these amazing park resources are protected for future generations."
The park agreements establish conditions for conducting air tours, including routes, altitudes, number of flights, type of aircraft, hours of operations and reporting requirements. The conditions are based on protecting a range of sensitive park locations and resources, including nesting birds, cultural-historic landmarks and visitor camping and recreational sites. By following the agreements, air tour operators will ensure the safety of tour passengers, protection of park resources and visitor enjoyment of the park from the air as well as the land and sea.
Air tours over national parks offer dramatic aerial views of water and land features that are uniquely different from ground or sea experiences. Nationwide, commercial air tour companies conduct nearly 300,000 tours over national parks annually. The cumulative impact of this many flights on park resources and visitors are potentially great. The tours can be noisy for visitors and wildlife below. The tours are therefore managed to protect park resources and visitor use without compromising aviation safety or the nation's air traffic control system.
Florida national parks are leading the way for other parks in the national park system to work with air tour operators to comply with changes to law covering air tours over national parks. Together, parks and air tour operators can make resource preservation a top priority under the National Parks Air Tour Management of 2000. Biscayne is the second national park to implement this new type of air tour management agreement following Big Cypress in January.
"As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail," said Muir.
Once you get Biscayne National Park into your heart, by land, sea or air, worries and fears vanish, magic happens and beautiful scenes open in every direction.
Matt Johnson is the Public Affairs Officer at Biscayne National Park. Though schooled as a lawyer, he was educated at eight national parks from Florida to Alaska.