The Everglades are a mysterious place with deep roots in American History. In the past two decades, the environment and its people have been under siege. The looming threat of deadly pythons, fear of the government closing in, and a daily battle for self-preservation – all paint a picture of this dying breed’s fight to exist in a modern world. If the government can’t protect them, they’ll have to protect themselves in this lawless land.
As of July 2018… the Florida Fishing and Wildlife Reserve have elected 15 individuals who know this land better than anyone, including law enforcement, acting as a local Task Force to protect their own. In this modern-day Wild West, a group of 11 men and 4 women meet weekly to assess tasks that are posing a problem to the community – then dispatch to tackle each mission in order to keep their culture alive amid changing times.
1. PYTHONS: There is an epidemic in the Everglades – a crisis at hand caused by hundreds of thousands of giant snakes taking over this precious ecosystem and breeding rapidly with no natural predators to stop them. Gladesmen are taking back their home the only way they know how- hunting and removing python from the rivers of grass one by one. Paid by the hour – an incentivized by each foot of snake, the bigger the python the bigger the payday.
2. CABIN BUILD & PRESERVATION: Pioneering families had stakes planted firmly in the soft soil of the everglades long before Florida was even a state. Their descendants still remain today – grandfathered into the national park limits because of their lineage. Should these cabins be left to decay or find themselves without ownership, they are reclaimed by the Florida Government. Under
threat of their shrinking territory, Gladesmen are banding together to secure the deeds to every remaining cabin and keep their culture alive.
3. HURRICANE PREP & RELIEF: No threat looms as large in the Southeast as that which comes directly from Mother Nature – thrusting her unrelenting roster of dangerous hurricanes and storms at Florida’s infrastructure and residents. Relief from the storm’s wrath lasts only as long as whispers of the next one. Gladesmen are dispatched to fortify the weakest homes and camps ahead of the storm’s landfall, as well as pick up the pieces for those whose off-grid homes or fragile structures became casualties of its descent. Hurricane season and its vicious annual cycle is a yearly reminder of the Everglades’ volatile state.
4. SEARCH & RESCUE: There are parts of the Everglades so remote and so rugged, that certain emergencies are out of reach even for trained law enforcement. As such, Gladesmen take it upon themselves to preserve and protect their own. Local search and rescue can mean the difference between life and death. When danger reigns, none know the intimacies of the mud and the rivers better than the men and women who have grown up in its channels. Using swamp buggies, boats, and ATVs – the Gladesmen don’t leave anyone behind.
5. FORTIFY THE CAMPS: Camps serve as an essential reprieve for hunters passing through these wild and dangerous parks and are critical places of shelter from the elements. In rugged conditions where the nearest town is miles and miles away, these camps are often the only places where Gladesmen can refuel and restock their supplies. If these lifelines are neglected, hunters risk increases exponentially, and the infrastructure often falls victim to hurricanes and infestation.
6. LOCAL ECONOMY: When you’re out in the bush, money isn’t the most valuable asset. For most, trade and barter may be a thing of the past but in the Everglades, a snakeskin or fresh frog meat will get you farther than a dollar bill. Gladesmen rely on a local economy that they’ve built themselves to get things done. It’s a handshake currency where the most valuable thing you have is your name and your word.
7. HUNT TO SURVIVE: While python hunting may be done out of necessity to protect the environment, hunting and fishing for resources and fuel is a way of life in the Everglades. Gerald’s nightly frog hunts are something local passerby’s rely on, while Bill can take down big game from bears to deer. Ryan has built a business on using the snakeskin and teeth to create holsters, boots, belts, and other goods which puts food on his family’s table. With grocery stores sometimes miles away, it’s a game of self-reliance.
8. AIRBOAT RESTRICTIONS: New regulations as of 2018 restrict the use of airboats in the Everglades – but to the Gladesmen, it’s about more than just a transportation hurdle. Airboats are a way of life – and their main lifeline in these rugged, muddy channels. The older generation will be grandfathered in – and for those below the age requirement, airboats are being manipulated to fall within the limits of new restrictions. For everyone else, a way of life and the freedom on the water is being extinguished.
9. FAMILY: Family in the Everglades is more than just flesh and blood, because Family entitles you to dozens of privileges in this unique area that are slowly whittling away. Between hunting permits, rights to land, and the ability to airboat without restriction – having your lineage tied Gladesmen. Preserving tradition and protecting their culture means everything to this unique breed.
10. URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Since the early 2000’s, human activity has been disrupting the natural cycle of the Everglades resources. As nearby cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale become more crowded, pressure builds to encroach on this vital ecosystem. Particularly vulnerable is the water supply - as it becomes polluted with phosphorus, nitrogen, and mercury. It is a fight to preserve not just the resources but also the land itself, where every generation of Gladesmen that fails to claim their plot leave it vulnerable to urban threats.
BILL - Bill is universally known as one of the most skilled hunters in the Everglades. Despite having only nine fingers, he doesn’t flinch at the sight of 14-footers. Instead, his greatest fear is an even more ominous one: Seeing the Gladesmen’s culture vanish. Bill is the leader of a band of Gladesmen who are quietly rebuilding secluded cabins that were grandfathered in by the state when no other structures are permitted to remain. The more cabins they save, the more difficult it becomes for the state to crush this way of life. In the next six months, Bill will sell his permanent home north of the Everglades and move completely off the grid into his resurrected cabin camp, allowing him to immerse fully in the place he calls home. His mission to maintain the authentic Gladesmen culture is challenged not only by strict state government regulations, but also by rival Gladesmen who are out to exploit the mysterious domain for money and glory.
STEVE - “Captain” Steve’s family are the original Gladesmen - settling in Florida before it was a state. Because Steve’s
reach and knowledge of the land is far beyond that of official emergency personnel, he is the unofficial one-man search and rescue in the Glades. He finds and guides lost fisherman, hunters, and boaters to safety - hauling them in on winches, dragging them through thick mud, and pulling trapped troublemakers out of the deadly mire. There is no one who knows the temperament of the harsh land better than someone who has spent his life facing every danger head-on like Steve.
GERALD - One of the last remaining of the oldest generation of Gladesman, Gerald is referred to as a “swamp hermit,” and often stays out of eye and earshot – and that’s just the way he likes it. To keep his cabin (a floating houseboat) inhabitable year round, Gerald takes on countless projects despite his age – including creating floating islands for turtle hatching, acting as his own off-grid plumber, and catching frogs by night. Nearly as old as some of the shelters themselves and with decades of experience living in the rivers of grass, Gerald is now buying as many cabins as he can with whatever money he has left to his name so that the world he knows doesn’t vanish with him.
OZZIE - A Cuban-American outsider who understands the value of an underdog, Ozzie offers his strength and craftsmanship to Bill as they restore and rebuild the swamp cabins. Restoring the hubs where all life in the Glades takes place is the core of their operation in saving the culture. In his unpretentious skiff, Ozzie isn’t afraid to skim the waters in search of the nastiest wildlife to earn a buck from nosy tourists, but he knows how to walk the line between Gladesman and Sell Out.
DANELLE - Danelle is a Montana native who has braved 34 bitter winters in that unforgiving state. Finally disenchanted with the frigid winters of the northwest, Danelle is packing up her guns and her dogs and heading to the Everglades – where years ago she befriended Bill and Steve on hunting trips to the swamps. She’s fearless, but silently unsure how her dogs and her spirit will fare in these unpredictable and taxing conditions. Her no-holds-barred personality fits well with the guys, even if her presence is at times a distraction for a rugged group of men. She thinks a new off-grid life in the Glades is just the right chapter, and she needs to find the right partner who shares her wild ways.
RYAN - Ryan is raw Everglades muscle known for his brawn and brute strength, and is Bill’s right-hand man. He considers himself a “young blood”-- the next generation of Gladesmen. Having grown up in the swamp, he’s seen the changing landscape firsthand, and doesn’t want to watch the rights of his family stripped away. His leather-making operation has been a fitting way to earn an honest living while helping to mitigate the dangerous mammoth snakes wiping out natural wildlife. Ryan’s outspoken nature is tough to tame, and he’s been known to throw fists when confronting rivals trying to steal his business.
CAROL - Carol has lived in the Florida bush since the age of 17. After losing her husband last year, Carol’s cabin is in desperate need of a complete overhaul. She’s chosen to live in a freestanding structure a few yards from the main home where her husband passed away, and it barely protects her from the elements and has only led to further decay. Eager to overcome her grief, Carol has enlisted Bill’s help to re-inhabit her historic cabin in order to eliminate the looming threat of repossession by the state. Leaning on her love of the Glades, Carol is among the esteemed original Glades-women who serve as grandmother figures to the younger generation.