RP Funding Center – Lakeland

Central Florida’s premiere entertainment, sports and convention venue offers loads of indoor entertainment, and is within walking distance of downtown Lakeland’s unique shopping and dining options.

Arena, Theater, Exhibit Hall and Conference Center

The RP Funding Center is the only multipurpose facility in Central Florida with four distinct venues under one roof: the 10,000-seat George Jenkins Arena, 2,186-seat Youkey Theater, 28,000-square feet Exhibit Hall, and 34,000-square feet Conference Center.

Broadway Series

Theatre lovers enjoying a Central Florida vacation will enjoy The RP Funding Center’s annual Broadway Series, featuring five nationally touring productions. Enjoy upbeat musicals, on the edge-of-your-seat dramas and timeless classics. Locals who subscribe to their Broadway Series Subscription Package receive entrance into all five shows, free parking, priority seating, special discounts and 10 percent off pre-show dining.

Entertainment Series

The RP Funding Center’s annual Entertainment Series brings down the house with thrilling live concerts, ballets, standup comedy, dance performances and more.

Famous groups and performers who have and will take part in the entertainment series include The Tenors, Neil Sedaka, various Dancing with the Stars alumni, America’s Got Talent winner Jackie Evancho and Kathy Griffin.

Lakeland Pro Rodeo Classic

If you’re lucky enough to be in town for the Lakeland Pro Rodeo Classic, you must go. Professional cowboys and cowgirls compete for cash, shiny gold buckles, and most importantly, the title of champion – it’s a boot scootin’ good time.

Public Ice Skating

One of the coolest things to do at The RP Funding Center in November and December is ice skating. Dates are scheduled to coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, and sometimes summer vacation.


Annual favorites for Central Florida visitors include Collectorama, featuring collectibles including currency, knives, watches more; Buckler Arts & Craft Show, which occurs in the summer and fall; The Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in the winter; Snowbird Extravaganza, which features 50,000 sq. ft. of vendors and entertainment; the Log & Timber Home Show and Lakeland VW Classic, which is held outdoors and features multiple vendors and a parts swap. The RP Funding Center also hosts multiple knife and gun shows each year, and the occasional boating and hunting expo.

Auburndale Speedway Event

WPCV 97.5 / Coca-Cola Gobbler 150

November 25, 2017

Gates Open: 5 p.m.

Start Time: 7 p.m.

Event Information:

WPCV 97.5 / Coca-Cola Gobbler 150

Sunshine State Challenge Series Super Late Models

Also V-8 Bombers, Legends, Q Mini-stocks, Scramblers and Mini-cups !

Ticket Prices:

Adult: $15

Seniors 55+: $13

Child: $5 ages 5-12

Family 4 Pack $32

2 Adults & 2 Kids (5-12)

Pit Passes: $30

Polk Theatre – Then and Now.

The Polk Theatre was built during a golden age in the United States – the stock market had yet to crash (though the boom had ended in Florida) and the clouds of World War II were not yet on the horizon. Even so, it was quite a leap of faith to build a vaudeville/movie palace in Lakeland in 1928. The population hovered at only 15,000 people and it was a rural community.

Lakeland businessman John E. Melton (whose developments include Cleveland Heights and the eighteen-hole golf course and country club adjoining the area) planned a Polk County first – a multipurpose building anchored by a grand movie palace. Street front office and retail space would bring in the revenue needed to build the theatre. However, it was difficult to borrow large sums of money for new construction in post-boom Lakeland, and Melton was forced to sell the uncompleted theatre portion of his building to the Publix Theatre Corporation for approximately $300,000.

The mezzanine lobby, accessible by ornately tiled staircases, featured twisted columns, delicate cornice and molding work, and brass banded terrazzo floors.

All of this splendor sat under the watchful eye of a starry ceiling. Painted a deep, royal blue, it fascinated patrons with its twinkling stars and sunrise/sunset effect. Because this simulated a natural setting, it was called an “atmospheric” theatre.

Imagine the awe this Theatre must have inspired in people who were not well traveled as today, Few would have ever seen Italian villas, and to walk in off the street and be immediately transported to such a place would have seemed marvelous. From the twinkling stars and puffy clouds in the high ceiling to the elaborate, colorful proscenium, the Polk Theatre was truly a miraculous place! 

The two most impressive technological features of the Polk were the theatre’s 100 ton air wash system to chill the air, and its Vitaphone sound on reel film system. The air conditioning system was such a drain on the city’s power supply that during its early years of operation it caused lights to dim all across town when turned on. It also required an operator to turn it on and off. When it became too cold, an usher ran down to the basement to tell the operator to shut the system down.

It was during its first 20 years of existence that the Polk’s star shone most brightly. Beginning with the advent of the “talkies” in the late ‘20s, and ending with the rise of the television medium in the late ‘40s, the golden years of the Polk demonstrate that Lakeland’s movie palace was much more than just a golden screening room. Vaudeville acts, newsreels, and various civic functions also drew crowds to the Theatre. Consequently, through depression, war, and up until mid-century, the Polk served as a town center for community interaction

On opening day, December 22, 1928, 2,000 of the 2,200 tickets available for the 1:00 p.m. matinee were sold within an hour of the box office’s noon opening. The film that first day was a Warner Brothers all-talking special, “On Trial”. During the transitional period in American popular culture, the Polk showcased both vaudeville and films. From its earliest days and extending into the ‘40s, the Theatre hosted a wide variety of live events in addition to films. There was a stage trap door that was particularly useful for magic acts. Enticing locals with the “Hollywood Scandals” were the McCord Dancers, the Sun-Tan Revue, and The Green Pastures. The Chinese Houdini, Li Ho Chang, also performed live on stage, and of particular note was Sally Rand with her famous fan dance. Other notables to perform through the years include, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Eddy Arnold, Tom Mix, Gene Autrey, Glenn Miller and the king himself, Elvis Presley in 1956. 

Promotions to increase attendance at films included, in 1931, a Charlie Chaplin Impersonation Contest just prior to the premier of Chaplin’s City Lights. A Grocery Night promotion offered free food during the Depression years. You could also acquire a complete set of dinnerware by attending enough movies. More exciting, however, were the car give-aways held during the early ‘30s. The drawings brought huge crowds to the Polk and helped maintain its high profile community status. 

As popular as car gifts were, no ‘30s era promotion so consistently captured the public’s imagination as did “Bank Night”. Also known as “Screeno” this was a form of lottery in which patrons purchased tickets hoping to win a large cash award. It was eventually prohibited as a game-of-chance.

The Polk suffered during the depression years, but somehow managed to survive, with a healthy supply of pluck and luck. Though the live acts were increasingly amateur and local, its ties to the movies only intensified. For throughout its golden years, the Polk was Lakeland’s outlet for Hollywood’s finest films – reflected in its marketing plan to draw “respectable people to a respectable theatre, to see a respectable product.”

A respectable gathering place also afforded a measure of freedom, and the Polk was a magnet for teens and young adults. The dark recesses of the balcony held forth amorous possibilities that were not lost on dating couples. Many long-term Lakeland relationships first began under the blue, twinkling ceiling of the Polk Theatre.

Through the war years in the ‘40s the Polk provided up to date news on the front and wartime fundraising activities were frequently held. However, the ‘40s are seen as the end of the “golden years” in Hollywood, due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the rise of television. By 1957 movie attendance had dropped 50 percent from its historically high mid-1940’s level. Theatres across the nation closed as living rooms replaced theatres as entertainment centers. The Polk survived for three decades after the end of World War II, but it’s luster faded as years past. 

During the ‘60s and ‘70s as Lakeland grew and became an increasingly suburban town, the Polk’s downtown location became a district liability. And, with the advent of multi-plexes old movie palaces were vulnerable targets for closure or worse. The Polk managed to stay operational into the ‘80s, but there was a growing possibility that the downtown landmark could be razed. The Polk was like a fine lady who was forced by economic conditions to pawn some of her jewelry, but she never sacrificed her dignity.

In 1982, a group of concerned citizens banded together to save the Polk. They formed a non-profit group, borrowed money, secured a grant from the state, and purchased the theatre for $300,000. As a non-profit, the Polk continues to rely upon grants and donations in order to meet its financial obligations. 

Major restoration of the building was completed in October, 1999, but as with any historic property it continues to need work.

The Theatre is supported by revenue from films, its Performing Arts Series, two fundraisers a year, rental income, and memberships. 


Haunted House and Halloween Industry Now a $10 Billion Industry

(StatePoint) Halloween is big business. The commerce of Halloween in the U.S. should exceed $10 billion during the 2017 season, according to Hauntworld.com, the industry’s leading website. That’s a lot of candy, costumes, decorations and tickets to haunted attractions.

One of the largest growth areas in the Halloween trade is the explosion in number and quality of commercial haunted house attractions, haunted farms, corn mazes, hayrides and other spooky venues. More than $1 billion of the $10 billion spending on Halloween is attributed to ticket purchases at themed haunted sites.

“Visiting a haunted attraction is now the single most popular way to celebrate the holiday,” says Larry Kirchner, founder of Hauntworld.com, which directs consumers to find and review Halloween attractions around the globe. The site provides locations and information about all major haunts, pumpkin patches, corn mazes and hayrides.

Haunted attractions strive to make guests feel like they’re experiencing a real-life horror movie, some going so far as to use computer animation, giant monsters and even virtual reality to provide scares guests enjoy. Many haunts now feature new attractions, such as zombie paintball, zombie laser tag, corn mazes, haunted hayrides and escape rooms.

This season, families have many options. Haunted houses have become more realistic, but at the same time, more family-friendly to appeal to larger crowds. So, what is the best way for your family to experience the Halloween haunt craze? Those with teenagers should seek out the scariest haunted house near them. Families with younger children should head to local farms.

Professional Halloween attractions are now often based at family farms, which typically offer traditional pumpkin patches, corn mazes and hayrides to appeal to younger guests. However, many of these farms transform into spooky attractions by night, featuring actors portraying frightening characters, creepy lighting and elaborate décor to provide fear-based fun. You can find the best haunted attraction for your family by visiting Hauntworld.com.

According to Hauntworld.com, these attractions are rated as 2017’s scariest in the U.S.

1. Netherworld – Atlanta – fearworld.com

2. The 13th Gate – Baton Rouge, La. – 13thgate.com

3. The Dent Schoolhouse – Cincinnati – frightsite.com

4. Erebus – Pontiac, Mich. – hauntedpontiac.com

5. Headless Horseman’s Hayrides and Haunted Houses – Ulster Park, N.Y. – headlesshorseman.com

6. Haunted Overload – Lee, N.H. – hauntedoverload.com

7. Nashville Nightmare – Nashville, Tenn. – nashvillenightmare.com

8. Bennett’s Curse – Baltimore – bennettscurse.com

9. The Darkness – St. Louis – scarefest.com

10. Field of Screams – Mountville, Pa. – fieldofscreams.com

11. Factory of Terror – Canton, Ohio – FOTOhio.com

12. Nightmare on 13th – Salt Lake City – nightmareon13th.com

13. USS Nightmare – Newport, Ky. – ussnightmare.com

The complete list of the “Best of” scary to not-so-scary attractions is available at: hauntworld.com.

There are many ways to give your family an age-appropriate scare this season, no matter where you live.


Why Can’t We Figure Out Flood Prevention?

August brings poignance to the politics of floodwater management in low-lying cities along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that triggered the second-most catastrophic engineering failure in human history. (The collapse of the New Orleans levee system is exceeded only by the Chernobyl reactor meltdown of 1986 in the annals of man-made fiascos.)This past weekend, Texas found itself in the crosshairs. Harvey’s winds petered out fairly quickly after the system made landfall Friday night—the Category 4 hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm—but the storm then squatted mercilessly in place to dump staggering amounts of rain. Up to 50 inches were predicted in some areas before week’s end.

For Texas, the measure of dysfunction was a failure to coordinate evacuation orders. A climate-change denier, Governor Greg Abbott nevertheless urged everyone to get out of harm’s way. But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, remembering the catastrophic, sometimes lethal, traffic jams associated with past evacuation efforts, said not so fast. Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios told constituents who failed to leave town to write their names on their bodies with Sharpie pens so coroners would be able to identify their corpses.

Notwithstanding this version of the Texas two-step, the state seems to be faring better than Louisiana did during the Katrina/Rita double whammy of 2005, though there are some depressing similarities: splintered buildings, biblical floods, and images of residents trapped on rooftops. The Astrodome, haunted as it is by eerie memories for the New Orleanians who fled to it for shelter from Katrina, saw service again, this time for local residents. Yes, Rockport was battered and the high school lost its roof. But Harvey had taken fewer than a half-dozen lives as of Monday morning—compared with Katrina’s death toll of about 1,800.The New Orleans floods earlier in the month weren’t even associated with a hurricane, just an incredible amount of rainfall: close to 10 inches in three hours. But as Texas served to remind us three weeks later, it’s time the Gulf got used to rainfall events of an intensity that the National Weather Service calls “unimaginable.”

Here’s what’s most concerning. Rather than radically reassess our relationship to storms and high water, something we vowed to do after Katrina, New Orleans reverted to form and began casting about for scapegoats and squabbling angrily over pump failures that flooded Mid-City and the Lakefront area.

We seem to be lapsing back into the careless, won’t-happen-here attitude that turned Katrina—a storm that was only mid-sized at landfall—into a lethal catastrophe.

Global warming’s to blame. No, it was Sewerage & Water Board honcho Joe Becker with his lies about pump capacity in a city that’s half below sea level and utterly dependent on those pumps to drain itself. No, the rainfall amounts were simply off the charts—no system could keep up with them. The pump maintenance budget is underfunded. Catch basins weren’t cleaned. Mayor Landrieu should have rushed back more quickly from his conference in Aspen. To do what? Bail out the city with a bucket?

How quickly we seem to be lapsing back into the careless, won’t-happen-here attitude that turned Katrina, a storm that was only mid-sized at landfall, into a lethal catastrophe. After that ordeal, vigilance was declared a civic responsibility. Katrina had shamed government leadership at several levels, not just in the Bush White House, and we citizens bore a good bit of responsibility ourselves.

Achieving “resilience”—a favorite buzzword of various foundations that came down here after Katrina to save us from ourselves—has become a call to arms, albeit a sometimes vague and empty one.But after a dozen years and billions of dollars spent shoring up New Orleans’s flood defenses, we are not resilient. Get with it, New Orleans. And the same scolding can be extended to the Texas officials who failed to work out coordinated messaging on evacuation.

Cities and states cannot reverse climate change on their own—though we would be fools not to do our part in stride with thinking people around the world. Kudos to Mayor Landrieu for defying the Trump administration and pledging support for the Paris accords. Kudos to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for ending his predecessor’s obscene and craven pandering to the oil interests who ravaged our coast and now must be made to pay the piper. And Houston, however misguided the recommendation to shelter in place over the past weekend, has also been at the forefront of this awakening to reality: It is one of 10 American metropolises that have joined New Orleans in the global Large Cities Climate Leadership Group. (The others are Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, members of a consortium that now extends to 58 cities around the world.)

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yards to make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.God knows enough city and civic leaders and journalists enjoyed post-Katrina junkets that took us to Holland to observe their very different approach to water management. Many of the Dutch nostrums have been championed by our more enlightened environmentalists, architects, and city planners. And the Dutch are no slouches when it comes to coastal defenses. They have not settled, as we did, for levees strong enough to resist “100-year storms.” They have fortified their North Sea shores against weather events expected once in 10,000 years. That’s a system 100 times more “robust” than ours, to use another fashionable buzzword.

>While our pumps and levees must be in tip-top condition at all times, we cannot pump our way to safety. We cannot wall out the water.

The fundamental shift would be to realize that, while our pumps and levees must be in tip-top condition at all times, we cannot pump our way to safety. We cannot wall out the water. The August 5 flood in New Orleans made a mockery of our unilateral obsession with water barriers. The enemy was within the levees, not outside of them.

What do we have to show for our official genuflections toward Holland? A little. Very little. We have re-opened Bayou St. John to a more natural confluence with Lake Pontchartrain. We have created the Lafitte Greenway, a prototype of something that should be done with every canal basin and batture in the region. Now and again a building goes up that can be celebrated for embodying what might be called Dutch treats: rooftop plantings, an unpaved courtyard.

Why are we building tracks for tourist trolleys in New Orleans instead of widening our neutral grounds to maximize their potential as green space? As Texas saw over the weekend, Houston’s signature ribbons of concrete make nifty riverbeds just when you might most urgently wish you could use them to escape the city in a bus or the family car. To Houston’s credit, it has a good record of creating and preserving parklands within the city over the past century. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been more than offset by explosive development and the paving of former pasturelands that once absorbed area rainfall.

New Orleans is spending $3 billion to redo the streets, with a third of that money dedicated to putting giant concrete tunnels under key arteries to convey water out of sight and out of the city, notes David Waggonner. Waggonner is the New Orleans architect who initiated the so-called Dutch Dialogues that brought expertise from the Netherlands to post-Katrina New Orleans. In his view, it is crucial that we pivot from the old paradigm—“pave, pipe, and pump”—and instead begin to “slow and store” water, pumping only as necessary. Reducing storm water to drainage—essentially equating it with sewerage—is “a perverse exclusion of opportunity,” Waggonner believes, especially in light of the worsening subsidence problems induced by excessive and continual pumping. Preliminary calculations indicate that even doubling the city’s pumping capacity would correct less than half the problem.Following the Dutch Dialogues, Waggonner led creation of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, a multi-parish blueprint that looked at available public parcels and rights of way to reduce flooding and add value. The Lafitte Greenway, a part of the plan, has been used for some storm water management and flood reduction purposes, though not as profoundly as would the larger “blueway” Waggonner and the Dutch called for.

The Water Plan was central to the city’s subsequent prize-winning entry in the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Focused on the Gentilly Resilience District, the proposal backs selected development projects aimed at creating a more varied water system. It should also be a more visible system, says Waggonner, not one buried beneath city streets. That’s how you engage residents and other stakeholders in the mission that Waggonner and allies in the Water Collaborative, a nonprofit advocacy group, call “living with water.”Bottom line: Waggonner sees smart water management as a way to upgrade public safety and induce investment in New Orleans. “If we want to live here,” he says, “we better figure this out.”

Amid the administrative disarray so flagrantly apparent in the aftermath of the August flood and power station fire, I cling to one narrow basis for cautious optimism. It’s this: While Becker’s initial flurry of misleading statements about the condition and functionality of the pumping system was disgusting, it was reassuring to see that the mayor and the City Council were having none of it. At the mayor’s behest, Becker and others at the water board are now on their way out the door.

As the Dutch made clear to Times reporter Michael Kimmelman, their revolution in water management isn’t just a burden shouldered grudgingly by a low-lying nation. It’s an exciting challenge, a source of pride—and a source of money. Exportable water management ideas are to the Netherlands as cheese and wine are to the French, Kimmelman quipped.

The Netherlands is pioneering—and, where possible, marketing—insights, attitudes, and technologies in demand around the world as weather worsens and seas rise. There’s an irony here. A hundred years ago, when the New Orleans pumping system was considered an engineering marvel, it was the Dutch who came to us in search of guidance. Their version of Katrina was the horrific 1953 inundation that made water management a national purpose of existential urgency. They turned disaster into a much more trenchant learning experience than we have.

We could be part of that engineering and commercial juggernaut. In a sense we are—but so far, our role is that of the coal-mine canary. We are a city that should be augmenting public safety by implementing the new water-management paradigm. The Dutch build purposely leaky levees and marvelous parks alongside massive flood gates attuned to the rhythm of the clouds and seas.

Why Can Florida Adults With Mental Illness Still Buy Guns?

After every tragic, gun-related suicide the question inevitably arises: Why, in a country that purportedly mandates background checks and champions mental health, was a suicidal person permitted to purchase a firearm? Now, a new study in Health Affairs sheds light on the loopholes in our background check system, which allow people with serious mental illness in Florida to legally purchase guns—even after involuntary mental health examinations and hospitalizations.

“Our federal gun regulations pertaining to mental illness prohibit lots of people from accessing firearms who are not violent, and never will be,” coauthor Jeffrey W. Swanson of Duke University said in a press statement. “At the same time, they fail to identify some people who will be violent or suicidal. With these data, we can improve criteria for restrictions that might actually reduce gun violence, but also carefully balance risk and rights.”

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Gun violence and suicide are growing problems in the United States. Studies have shown that states with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun-related suicides, and one report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were at least 21,175 firearm suicides in 2013, alone—accounting for nearly half of all suicides that year.

Unfortunately, politics make it tricky to study this phenomenon without raising the ire of the gun lobby and Congress is still actively preventing the CDC from conducting meaningful gun violence research. And that’s a shame, because independent studies have consistently proven that a scientific approach—rather than a hotheaded political one—could reduce these tragedies without sacrificing individual freedoms.

Regardless, as long as Congress continues to prevent the CDC from performing robust research, privately funded studies will continue to be our best resource for preventing gun violence. For this particular study, researchers examined gun use, violent crime, and suicide among 81,704 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression in Florida between 2002 and 2012. During the study period, they found that 254 study subjects had committed suicide and that 50 of them had used a gun to kill themselves.

Shockingly, a full 72 percent were legally eligible to buy guns—despite their clear diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

This loophole was based in a (now, thankfully defunct) Florida law that stated only mental health patients who had been involuntarily committed were prohibited from purchasing firearms. In other words, a schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression patient who had been involuntarily examined and even hospitalized for his or her own safety could still buy a gun in Florida as of 2012, as long as he or she had never been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by court order. And even though Florida has since tightened up these lax laws, officials are still not permitted to seize a patient’s guns after he or she has been diagnosed with a serious psychiatric disorder. So as long as someone buys a small arsenal before receiving a diagnosis, he or she can keep the weapons!

The authors suggest that many gun-related suicides could be prevented if states would prohibit people who have been involuntarily held during any mental health crisis—regardless of whether they were formally committed to a psychiatric hospital—from buying firearms from federally licensed dealers. “These individuals have already been identified during a previous mental health crisis,” Swanson says. “They haven’t been committed, but we know they’re at increased risk of harming themselves or others. This is a lost public health opportunity in many states.”

Meanwhile, Swanson and his team recognize that their results are limited to a specific population, and not necessarily applicable to other states and situations. But they hope that their study will nonetheless help guide federal and state efforts to reduce gun violence in meaningful ways. “The study in Florida is one piece of the puzzle, and we want to continue to build evidence from different states to draw a better picture of how these laws work under different conditions,” Swanson says.

“We live in a country where private gun ownership is cherished, constitutionally protected, and very prevalent. Gun violence is a challenging problem in the U.S., and one that requires a lot of careful thinking and research to bring evidence to bear for these policies.”

Rising Seas Are Pushing Too Much Salt Into The Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.

But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

An experiment is going on here to help scientists understand more about what’s likely to happen as the ocean invades. “We’re making, basically, artificial seawater here,” a guy wearing a mosquito net over his face tells me, as he stirs water in a vat the size of a hot tub.

The guy in the mosquito net is Joe Stachelek — a student of ecologist Tiffany Troxler, from Florida International University. They’re making salt water and pumping it out into the wetland — dosing the plants and soil with their briny mix as a preview of what the ocean could do.

“As sea level rises,” Troxler explains, “the salt-water wedge moves inland.” And it infiltrates the bedrock.

“Our underlying rock is limestone,” Troxler says. “That limestone is very porous; it’s almost like Swiss cheese in some areas.”

We walk out into the test site — through the saw grass and the underlying peat, which is a fancy name for muck. It’s rich stuff, full of nutrients and microorganisms that feed this river of grass. And, like the plants, the peat also affected by salt water.

The team has laid out a metal boardwalk, so you can walk around the muck without sinking up to your waist. Out here the grass is patchier, and in some places the peat is slumping — collapsing.

Troxler says there’s lots of this slumping going on. “When we start to lose the structure of the plants,” she explains, “essentially this peat, which is otherwise held together by roots, becomes a soupy pond.”

In response to the salt, the plants actually pull up some of their roots — out of the peat. The roots look like teeth protruding from receding gums.

This could be the future of the Everglades, Troxler says. And here’s the thing: The Everglades acts like sponge, feeding off the Biscayne aquifer — a giant cell of fresh water that lies underneath the land.

“We get over 90 percent of our fresh water from the Biscayne aquifer,” Troxler says, ‘we’ meaning millions of people in South Florida.

As seawater seeps up from underneath, through the limestone bedrock, it is contaminating the aquifer and the everglades above it.

That’s starting to worry some people. Like Julie Hill-Gabriel, who directs Everglades policy for the National Audubon Society in Florida. She says she tells people in South Florida, “What we do in the Everglades is 100 percent going to affect you in your neighborhood — [and whether] when you turn on the tap water, you have enough fresh clean water.”

For millennia, fresh water flowed south to the Everglades, making it the largest flooded grassland in America. But over the past several decades, that water was diverted to irrigate agricultural fields, and to keep homes from flooding. Environmental groups like Audubon have been trying to restore the natural flow to the Everglades, mostly to preserve wildlife.

Now, Hill-Gabriel says, there’s a new reason for that restoration — to repel the invading sea. Putting more freshwater back into the sponge that is the Everglades could create a kind of “back-pressure” to keep seawater out.

“It just really compounds the urgency to move that freshwater south,” says Hill-Gabriel.

At least that’s the theory.

When it comes to climate change in South Florida, much of the focus until now has been about protecting property with pumps and barriers. But James Cason, the Republican mayor of the city of Coral Gables, says he hopes his constituents can understand the importance of protecting the Everglades as well.

“It’s not just so they can see the alligators,” Cason says. “It’s because they’ll want to make sure the drinking water on which we all depend is not contaminated.”

Sinkhole Discovery Suggests Humans Were in Florida 14,500 Years Ago

A stone knife, mastodon bones and fossilized dung found in an underwater sinkhole show that humans lived in north Florida about 14,500 years ago, according to new research that suggests the colonization of the Americas was far more complex than originally believed.

Archaeologists have known of the sinkhole in the Aucilla river, south of Tallahassee, for years. But they recently dived back into the hole to excavate what they call clear evidence that ancient mankind spread throughout the Americas about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Almost 200ft wide and 35ft deep, the sinkhole was “as dark as the inside of a cow, literally no light at all”, according to Jessi Halligan, lead diving scientist and a professor at Florida State University at Tallahassee. Halligan dived into the hole 126 times over the course of her research, wearing a head lamp as well as diving gear.

In the hole, the divers found stone tools including an inch-wide, several inch-long stone knife and a “biface” – a stone flaked sharp on both sides. The artifacts were found near mastodon bones; re-examination of a tusk pulled from the hole confirmed that long grooves in the bone were made by people, probably when they removed it from the skull and pulled meat from its base.

“Each tusk this size would have had more than 15lbs of tender, nutritious tissue in its pulp cavity,” said Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan who was a member of a team that once removed a tusk from a mammoth preserved in Siberian permafrost.

Of the “biface” tool, Halligan told Smithsonian magazine: “There is absolutely no way it is not made by people. There is no way that’s a natural artifact in any shape or form.”

When ancient people butchered or scavenged the mastodon, the sinkhole was a shallow pond: a watering hole for men, mastodons, bison, bears and apparently dogs. The researchers found bones that appear to be canine, suggesting dogs trailed the humans, either as companions or competitors for scraps.

The discovery makes the sinkhole the earliest documented site for humans in the south-eastern United States. The researchers published their findings in the journal Science Advances on Friday, writing that the artifacts show “far better” evidence of early humans than previous work at the site.

“The evidence from the Page-Ladson site is a major leap forward in shaping a new view of the peopling of the Americas at the end of the last Ice Age,” said Mike Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University.

“In the archeological community, there’s still a terrific amount of resistance to the idea that people were here before Clovis,” he added, referring to the so-called “Clovis people”, a group long thought the first band of humans in the Americas.

Waters said that the watering hole would have made for “easy pickings” for humans looking to corner prey. Halligan suggested the ancient hunter gatherers may have been the first seasonal nomads of the east coast, traveling south in the winter.

“They were very smart about local plants and local animals and migration patterns,” she said. “This is a big deal. So how did they live? This has opened up a whole new line of inquiry for us as scientists as we try to understand the settlement of the Americas.”

Humans are thought to have crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age, when land linked Siberia to Alaska, but the timing of the crossing is a question of long dispute. In the 1930s, archaeologists found distinctive spearheads among mammoth bones near Clovis, New Mexico. For decades the Clovis people were considered the first to colonize the Americas, around 13,000 years ago. Thousands of Clovis spearheads have been found around North America and as far south as Venezuela.

But in the last two decades, archaeologists have found an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil, human DNA by way of feces in a cave in Oregon, evidence of humans in coastal Chile as long as 14,800 years ago, and spearheads in Texas that could date human arrival in the Americas to 15,500 years ago. Most of the manmade artifacts found in these disparate sites lack the signatures of the Clovis people.

At the Florida site, the researchers analyzed twigs in fossilized mastodon dung to date the bones and artifacts, finding them to be about 14,550 years old. The timing casts the Bering Strait theory into doubt, Halligan said: the ice-free land bridge was only open for a few thousand years.

“So the ice-free corridor is not our answer for how the Americas were initially colonized,” she told the Smithsonian.

“The logical way people could have come to Florida by 14,600 years ago is if their ancestors entered the Americas by boat along the Pacific Coast,” Waters told Discovery News.

“They could have travelled by boat to central Mexico, crossed and come along the Gulf Coast. They could have entered the Americas via the Columbia river and then travelled inland to the Mississippi river and followed it down and entered the Gulf Coast, eventually making their way to Florida.”

Mastodon remains have been found as far north as Kentucky, she said. Fisher added that the discovery that “humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years” casts doubt on another theory: that the Clovis hunters quickly made mammoths and mastodons extinct as they launched a “blitzkrieg” across the continent.

“That means that however humans and mastodons interacted, it took at least two millennia for the process of extinction to run to completion,” he said at a press conference. The main reason the giant mammals went extinct, he said, was probably the warming climate.

Several anthropologists not affiliated with the research said it added to the mounting evidence of a complex, many-staged migration into the Americas.

“I think this paper is a triumph for underwater archaeology and yet another nail in the coffin of the Clovis-first theory,” Jon Erlandson, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon in Eugene, told Nature magazine.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” archaeologist Michael Faught, one of the reviewers of the research, told National Geographic. “It’s unassailable.”

For 1st Time Since 1978, U.S. Cruise Docks in Cuba

The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana Harbor on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

The gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia appeared on the horizon around 8 p.m. EST. Cubans fishing off the city’s seaside boulevard, the Malecon, watched it slowly sail toward the colonial fort at the mouth of Havana Harbor. The ship stopped off the city’s cruise terminal and began slowly turning into a docking position, the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Inside the cruise terminal, CBS News’ Portia Siegelbaum says there was a conga band and a colorful welcome display to greet the American tourists as they disembarked from the ship.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Adonia’s arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The straits were blocked by the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected. More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report Monday.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 person in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include on-board workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as “people-to-people” educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of U.S. law.

Optional activities for the Adonia’s passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana’s colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government.

After Carter dropped limits on Cuba travel, 400 passengers, including musical legend Dizzy Gillespie sailed from New Orleans to Cuba on a 1977 “Jazz Cruise” aboard the MS Daphne. Like the Adonia, it sailed despite dockside protests by Cuban exiles, and continued protests and bomb threats forced Carras Cruises to cancel additional sailings, Grace said.

The following year, however, Daphne made a several cruises from New Orleans to Cuba and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Cuba cut back on all cruise tourism in 2005, ending a joint venture with Italian terminal management company Silares Terminales del Caribe and Fidel Castro blasted cruise ships during a 4 ½ hour speech on state television.

“Floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents,” Castro said.

Today, the Cuban government sees cruises as an easy source of revenue that can bring thousands more American travelers without placing additional demand on the country’s maxed-out food supplies and overbooked hotels.

Before detente, Americans made surreptitious yacht trips to Cuba during Caribbean vacations and the number of Americans coming by boat has climbed since 2014, including passengers on cruise ships registered in third countries and sailing from other ports in the Caribbean. Traffic remains low, however, for a major tourist attraction only 90 miles from Florida.

Aiming to change that as part of a policy of diplomatic and economic normalization, Obama approved U.S. cruises to Cuba in 2015. The Doral, Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line announced during Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March that it would begin cruises to Cuba starting May 1.

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from traveling to the country of their birth by ship. As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced April 22 it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the U.S. to Cuba this year.

Cruise traffic is key to the Cuban government’s reengineering of the industrial Port of Havana as a tourist attraction. After decades of treating the more than 500-year-old bay as a receptacle for industrial waste, the government is moving container traffic to the Port of Mariel west of the city, tearing out abandoned buildings and slowly renovating decrepit warehouses as breweries and museums connected by waterfront promenades.

Cruise dockings will be limited by the port’s single cruise terminal, which can handle two ships at a time.

President Barack Obama Reveals Executive Actions on Gun Control During Emotional Press Conference

After weeks of speculation surrounding the possibility of President Barack Obama issuing executive actions on the nation’s dire need for a stronger focus on gun control, Obama revealed his plans to help reduce the prevalence of gun-related violence across the country. Ahead of the announcement, so-called gun rights activists immediately started to stir up controversy surrounding the possibility of stricter background checks for those wishing to purchase firearms. Obama, however, pushed forward with his initiative before ultimately revealing his plan during a White House press conference on Tuesday.

Mark Barden, the father of Sandy Hook victim Daniel Barden, introduced Obama and Vice President Joe Biden by reminding the nation that Obama previously “made a promise” that he would do “everything in his power” to keep the nation safe from preventable gun violence. “I still remember the first time we met,” Obama said to Barden when taking the podium. “That changed me that day and my hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”

“Too many,” Obama said after recounting the recent outburst of mass shooting in the United States. “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides, domestic violence, gang shoot-outs, accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters or buried their own children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability [or] without the love of their life. A number of those people are here today. They can tell you some stories. In this room right here, there are a lot of stories.”

“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees that kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama added, pointing to the notion that violence is not a uniquely American problem. “We start thinking this is normal.” Speaking directly to conspiracy theorists that continue to perpetuate the notion that Obama is somehow planning to do away with the Second Amendment outright, Obama hesitated very little in rebuking such falsities. “I taught constitutional law,” Obama quipped. “I know a little about this.”

Though background checks are required at designated “gun stores,” some gun sellers are not required to operate under the same set of quite reasonable rules. “Everyone should have to abide by the same rules,” Obama said. The POTUS even referenced some Republican rivals’ previous statements in apparent accord with the expansion of background check requirements, including two particularly unlikely sources: George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

“I reject that thinking,” Obama said in response to the “Why bother?” argument proposed by pacifists. “At the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill a bunch of children,” Obama reminded the nation, “but most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon.”

Until Congress acts appropriately on the issue of gun law reform, Obama is confident his decision to use his legal authority of executive action to expand background checks to all forms of gun purchases (digital and physical) will help move gun control in the right direction in the years ahead. “We’re also taking steps to making the background check system more efficient,” Obama added. “We’re going to bring an outdated background check system into the 21st century.”

“If we can do it for your iPad,” Obama said of the ability to track a stolen iPad with ease from the comfort of one’s home, “[then] we can do it with a stolen gun.” Adding that some retailers have already “stepped up” to support these proposals, Obama asks all retailers to take the task of gun safety seriously. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said of the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. “And, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”