On a recent business trip to Florida, it became crystal clear that our natural resources and historic landmarks are quickly becoming nothing more that resort destinations designed to drain money from vacationers and visitors. I have been to several places considered “destinations” and have found that much of what attracted me was lost to development. Hilton Head island has almost no public beaches and most of the beach area has been built into waterfront condos and time-shares. The same holds true in Naples Florida and St. Augustine. It seems that soon, there will be no vacation spots with unique history or landmarks left that are not tourist “destinations.”
While in Naples, I found a small stretch of beach that was open to the public. It was about 15 feet from the boundary of the resorts to the water line at high tide. Not much room to sit and enjoy the beauty of a sunset or watch the gulls skitter along the edge of the surf trying to find a morsel to eat. Once five or ten people show up, it seems downright crowded as the birds fly off to find somewhere more private.
I remember travelling with my family as a child to Williamsburg, Virginia, the Petrified Forest, many beaches on the east, west and gulf coasts and never having any difficulty finding a place to put down a towel, set up a campsite or park the car. Now those memories stand in stark contrast to the reality of driving up and down a busy, crowded road filled with driveways to resorts and gated communities trying to find a beach access point for the public use, or having to pay an exorbitant fee to park at a national park.
This is by no means a new thing. Mankind has been developing land since the beginnings of society. The spectacular castle, Neuschwanstein (inspiration for the Disney Castle) was built by Ludwig in the 19th century. We look on it as a monument and no one would suggest tearing it down to build something else, but what most people don’t know is that Ludwig built that castle on the ruins of a 5th century castle that he had razed—one that had more historical significance than the unfinished castle that is there now has.
The saddest part is that there is no undoing what has happened. There is no going back to the pristine beaches or verdant forests that used to exist near these destinations. They are gone. I have a picture of Waikiki beach Hawaii from 1970 that my mother took and I have a picture from 2009 that I took. The only similarity between the two photographs is the colorful face of one of the hotels near the volcano. The emerald cliffs and hills are now hotels and apartment complexes and more landscape disappears every day as development shows no signs of slowing.
I’m not saying that development is a bad thing or that it should not happen. Rather, I suggest a more conservative thought to parceling out these resorts; one that does not count the dollar as the driving force behind the decisions. The Everglades run from just south of Naples, Florida across to Miami and all points south. This area is still a swampy wilderness—not pristine, mind you; it was heavily modified in the 1800s by some big money tycoons—and a national preserve, but is flanked by serious resorts as a drive along the Tamiani Trail or Interstate 75 will demonstrate. But the glades themselves are still natural—for the most part. At least right now they are.
As the population increases, more and more people will be seeking places to visit for vacations. These people will be bringing money to spend and developers would love to give them something on which to spend that money. I just wish it didn’t happen at the expense of the natural beauty of the attraction. Perhaps the department of the interior could set aside a buffer around some of the more noteworthy areas to curb the rampant commercial development.