By Nicole Anderson, Airboating Magazine
The shallow sheet water flows through the marshlands deep in the heart of the Everglades. Alligators appear just below the waterline waiting for their next meal. Snail kites, Blue Herons, and a menagerie of other birds flit hither and fro as an airboat roars across the water. True Gladesman understand what the heart of the Everglades looked like many years ago. Before the levy’s, before the pumps, before the floods, and the mercy kills of 82.’
As a young boy, about two or three years old, Ron Bergeron asked his grandpa, Lonnie P. Harvey, to take him out in the boat one day. He wanted to see where his grandpa went every day. He wanted to see why he went. Why he loved the Everglades and the landscape that was home to his family so much.
Much to Bergeron’s surprise, his grandpa said yes. At such a young age it is surprising that he remembers with such clarity the beauty of God’s landscaping, the wildlife everywhere, and the sunsets. To this very day, he is convinced that had his grandpa not taken him out on the boat that he wouldn’t be the man he is today; and he certainly wouldn’t have such a deep abiding love for the great outdoors and all that call it home.
He fell in love with the environment and as he grew, the landscape changed and not always for the better. He wanted it to prosper. He wanted it to be truly wild. The way he remembered it to be. Bergeron tells stories of the Lost City that his grandfather, Harvey had discovered in 1946 and how his grandmother had sewn the fabric on the wings of their old J3 Cub airplane. It was his grandfather who taught Bergeron to love the land and it wasn’t long after this love affair began that he realized he needed his own transportation.
Bergeron bought his first airboat when he was 16 years old. He figured that if there was a heaven on earth the Everglades had to be it and he needed a way to meander deeper into the mangroves. He wanted to explore and discover all that he could. It wasn’t long before he left his home with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket and now, a millionaire developer, Bergeron was appointed to the Florida Conservation Commission in 2007 and early on became known as ‘Alligator Ron,’ the Florida man of Florida politicians after an incident of wrestling an alligator on an outing in the Glades.
Bergeron, a former rodeo champion of 20 years, python hunter, alligator wrestler, and now the wildlife commissioner certainly isn’t a wallflower and after ten years serving on the Conservation Commission opportunity came knocking on his door once again. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the South Florida Water Management District early in 2019 and his duties, to protect over 16 counties and waterways from Orlando to Key West. Over 1,500,000 acre-feet of natural sheet water flow through this area from St. Lucie to the Atlantic.
This is the first time that a state agency has entered into an agreement as large as the new Everglades Restoration project. Bergeron believes it may just be the largest restoration project in the world and while many people may not understand fully why that hugs swampland at the tip of Florida is important, Bergeron does. The Everglades isn’t just any swamp, it literally replenishes the aquifer for drinking water for millions of people. 8.7 million to be exact, who live in the 16 counties this program protects, not to mention the 1 ½ million people who visit southern Florida annually.
Like it or not, Florida’s economy is tied to tourism which is tied to water quality and therefore, tied to the Everglades. People come from all over the world to visit Florida and they expect to have clean drinking water and plenty of it to play in. Afterall, welcome to the fishing and boating capital of the world.
“Gov. DeSantis is a true champion of the environment and I applaud his leadership as well as his role in the restoration project in the Everglades,” said Bergeron as I asked what it was like to work with the new Governor. Both men believe that the work to restore the Everglades is important. “His commitment to the protection and restoration of the Everglades is unmatched and I think he will be a tremendous leader for South Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement announcing Bergeron’s appointment.
Bergeron is one of those guys who worked hard his entire life and created an incredible legacy from the ground up. His hope? Sustainable access and enjoyment of the Everglades for future generations to come. “We should recognize our footprint on the Earth and simply be good stewards. We should take care of God’s landscaping and surroundings. By doing this, we will impact ourselves. For better or for worse,” Bergeron said as he explained his love of the Gladesman culture and the need for humanity to have a plan. After all, you don’t protect what you don’t love, and you don’t love what you don’t understand.
With rising sea levels, the possibility of floods, and a higher propensity for storms, Bergeron and his team are looking at various models to adjust flood control and water supplies in order to rebuild and restore the Everglades so that hopefully, it remains wild. Bergeron’s dream is that “God blesses me to stay here long enough that we can save the Glades. Long live the Everglades. From seagrass to sawgrass it’s all-important.”