Everglades National Park
The Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands is a rare and beautiful place. It is one of North America's unsung wild places - a beautiful, rugged, subtropical landscape experienced by a relatively few adventurous souls each year. Many who appreciate the unique qualities of this wilderness will argue that it is a place better kept secret. Perhaps, in my quest for solitude and a deeply personal communion with nature, I might ordinarily agree. But I also feel that it is a resource important not only for its natural heritage and spiritually enriching powers, but for its commercial and recreational values as well.
Everglades National Park protects an unparalleled landscape that provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther.
An international treasure as well - a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected areas under the Cartagena Treaty.
Discover the mysteries of the Everglades at South Florida's oldest alligator farm. Near the main entrance of Everglades National Park, Everglades Alligator Farm contains more than 2,000 alligators! Glide across the everglades on one of our guided airboat tours. Alligator, snake, and wildlife shows are performed hourly.
The Everglades Alligator Farm one of the few real working alligator farm, that doesn't process alligators. Alligator eggs are collected every year, and sold to other alligator farms around the state. Home of the famous 14 ft. "Grandpa" alligator, the farm has an awesome staff of Airboat drivers, Alligator Experts, and even Snake handlers.
A trip to the Everglades Alligator Farm includes an exciting airboat tour of the surrounding river of grass, a walking trail around the farm to see the alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and wildlife, a great display of local and exotic snakes, and informational wildlife shows every hour. Everglades Alligator Farm is open daily between the hours of 9 am to 5:30 pm. If you are headed to Key Largo or Key West, this is an attraction you absolutely won't want to miss!
Everglades National Park is only a one hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Miami, but the park encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat with one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. It was for this very reason that Congress established the Everglades as a National Park in 1934. The park has since been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance and a World Heritage Site.
At least one million people from all over the world visit the Everglades each year. There are three main entry points: the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, which is closest to Naples and south of Everglades city; the Shark Valley area that can be accessed by US 41 (also known as the Tamiami Trail); and the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, the park’s main headquarters.
The Florida Everglades are home to a diverse array of wildlife within the park’s five different habitats: the Hammock, Mangrove, Pineland, Sawgrass, and Slough. Notable Everglades animals include tree frogs, alligators, the American crocodile, manatee, Key deer, otters, and the Florida panther. The park is located along avian migratory routes, so birding is also a popular activity.
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Everglades National Park is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent. Its juncture at the interface of temperate and sub-tropical America, fresh and brackish water, shallow bays and deeper coastal waters creates a complex of habitats supporting a high diversity of flora and fauna. It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.
Everglades National Park is one of the largest and most well-known of America's national parks. It was also the first of America's parks to be preserved not for its scenic wonders (although these certainly exist) but because of the magnificence of its biological resources. Currently covering 1,506,539 acres, it is the third largest national park in the contiguous 48 states, smaller only than Death Valley and Yellowstone NationalParks.
The Everglades is located on the extreme southern section of the Florida peninsula, about 20 miles east of Biscayne National Park. Although many visitors are unprepared for Everglades' attractions which are quite different the spectacular geographical characteristics of many western parks, the features are subtle but fascinating. The park encompasses sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammocks, mangrove swamps, lakes, and Florida Bay. It is know for its animal life including the famous alligators, the largest concentration of wading birds on the American continent, 14 threatened or endangered species. The park preserves one of the world's truly unique ecosystems.
It is apparent that the Everglades have been inhabited for over 10,000 years, perhaps even 20,000. By 4,000 years ago the area with its ample food supplies-fish, shellfish, plants, and land animals--supported a substantial population. Europeans first appeared on the scene in 1513 when Ponce de Leon explored portions of the Florida peninsula. On a later visit he was killed in the area by a Calusa arrow. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500's, two primary groups of Indians, the Calusas and the Tequestas--lived in the area. Population estimates range between about 5,000 and 20,000. The Tequestas were fishermen, while the Calusa ate shellfish, clams, and oysters. However, the Indian population was largely eliminated by the diseases introduced by the Spanish explorers, such as tuberculosis, influenza, and polio.
After the initial Spanish attempts at conquest, the south Florida area returned to isolation for 300 years. After 1700, Indians of the Creek Confederacy from Georgia and other areas north of Florida migrated into the areas vacated by the extermination of the previous inhabitants. These Indians came to be known as Seminoles ("free man" in an Indian language), but they were largely eliminated and eventually forcibly moved as a result of the Seminole Wars (1835-1842, 1855-1859) which followed the acquisition of Florida by the United States in 1821. Whites begin to settle the coastal areas of the present park in the 1880's and 1890's. Piioneers supported themselves with a combination of farming, fishing, hunting, and hunting of birds for their plumage.
However, threats to the integrity of the Everglades ecosystem became a reality with the arrival of people. Many birds were hunted to the brink of extinction for their plumage. The sheet flow "river of grass" which forms the basis for the existence of the glades came under attack as Floridians began to divert the waters flowing south from Lake Okeechobee to control floods and provide water to the burgeoning population. In the early 1900's Governor Napolean Bonaparte Broward campaigned on promises to drain the wetlands. In 1909 the Everglades Drainage District completed the Miami Canal connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Miami area, and additional channeling projects were completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. A dam on the south rim of the lake itself was completed in 1930. Later, the Tamiami Trail road which runs east and west through the Everglades was completed, interrupting the flow of water to the south.
During this period the characteristics of the glades began to attract attention. In 1832 J. J. Audubon visited and observed and studied the amazing concentration of birds. The Audobon Society later spearheaded efforts to save the bird populations from the ravages of hunters. In 1901 this effort culminated in a law prohibiting hunting of many of the area's birds (except for game birds).This effort was highlighted in 1905 when one of the Audobon wardens, Guy Bradley, who was charged with prevention of bird poaching, was murdered by a hunters. Eventually, interest in preservation of parts of the glades began to develop. In 1916 the Paradise Key area was established as Royal Palm State Park, a result of effort by the Florida Federation of Women's clubs.
However, threats to the resources of the park continued to mount, as a result of oil drilling, lumbering, and other activities. These threats generated interest in preservation of the natural wonders. National Park Service Director Stephen Mather advocated a national park for the Everglades in 1923. In 1929, the Florida legislature created the Tropical Everglades National Park Association under the leadership of landscape architect Ernest Coe to investigate the possibility of establishment of a national park. Coe's tireless efforts resulted on May 20, 1934 in the passage of a bill authorizing creation of the park, and although the boundaries of the park were to enclose 2 million acres no land was to be actually acquired for 5 years. In fact, land acquisition was further delayed until after World War II when the park was finally dedicated on December 6, 1947 by President Truman in a ceremony at Everglades City. It was the first park to be founded to protect primarily biological resources.
Despite creation of the park, threats to the Everglades environment have continued. Water supplies and quality remain a problem, and in the 1960's an enormous airport on the eastern border of the park, planned to cover 39 square miles, was planned. This plan was opposed by environmental groups and finally abandoned. In 1962 water suppolies to the Everglades was seriously diminished when the water flowing under the Tamiami Trail was restricted through only 4 water control gates. Water was on occasion shut off completely; among other casualties of this action, half of the existing alligator population was lost.
In 1971 Congress mandated a minimum flow of water into the park. And, in 1974, the Big Cypress National Preserve was created. This area had been part of the original authorization in 1934 but had not actually been included in the park when it was officially created.In 1979, an additional 107,600 acres was added to the park.
However, the Everglades has often been called the most endangered national park. Water supplies and the natural flow and cycle are still problems. Diminished flows of water from the north have increased the intrusion of salt water into the southern section of the park near the coast. The water which does flow into the park is somewhat polluted by agricultural runoff. Very high levels of mercury have been detected in the park's fish. The park is under serious stress from three major sources--the increasing domination of non-native plants, water quantity, and water quality.
To many people the name "Everglades" conjures up images of a deep, dark swamp. And while swamps exist in the Everglades, particularly in the Big Cypress National Preserve, most of the land area of the park is quite different from that. Very different types of land and vegetation can be found in the park, often dependent on how high the land lies and where differences of a few feet have substantial effects.
Sawgress Marsh The heart of the Everglades is the vast sawgrass marshes, the largest of its kind in the world. Prior to the engineering efforts of the human residents of Florida, these marshes were once part of a huge, shallow river 50 miles wide and 120 miles long running from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida Bay in the south. Noted naturalist and defender of the Everglades Marjorie Stoneman Douglas appropriately termed these areas the "River of Grass." This river was created from overflowing water from the lake running slowly--on the order of a foot or so a minute--across the slightly inclined floor of south Florida. From a geological perspective, this environment and the Everglades themselves are quite young, perhaps 5000 years.
There are two seasons in the Everglades--the dry season, from about November through April, and the wet season, from May until October when an average of 53 and even 100 inches of rain might fall. Approximately 60 inches of rain falls during the wet season and the limestone base of the sawgrass areas are covered by water. The sheet of water which flows through the Everglades results from overflow from Lake Okechobee in the north after the summer rains.
However, the "River of Grass" from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades no longer flows freely. Over the past 60 years it has been interrupted by 1400 miles of canals, levees, and spillways, designed to control flooding and provide water to the ever increasing population of south Florida. The current park embraces only about 1/10 of the original Everglades area.
Surprisingly, to some, the sawgrass marshes are not soft, but have a porous but extremely hard limestone bottom. It is quite possible to walk across these prairies even during the wet season without sinking.
The sawgrass plant itself is actually a sedge, one of the oldest green plants on earth. It's low requirements for nutrients makes it well adapted for the Everglades environment. The leaves of the sawgrass plant have serrated edges which can easily cut a person if he or she runs a hand along the plant in the wrong direction. During the wet season the roots of the plant are completely covered by water; in the dry season the marshes are occasionally devastated by fire. Periodic fire is actually helpful, as it eliminates dead, matted sawgrass which otherwise accumulates.
The sawgrass marsh is the emblem of the Everglades, in some ways calling to mind the African savanna. But there is no real equivalent to the sawgrass marshes and the sheet flow anywhere in the world; the ecosystem is unique. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in her famous book Everglades: River of Grass, wrote in 1947 that "there are no other Everglades in the world."
Pine Forest The highest areas of the park, which lie several feet above the low areas, are covered by forests of slash pine and plants like the saw palmetto which grows in the mulch of fallen pine needles. These are called "pinelands" or "pine flatwoods." The term "slash pine" is derived from the old practice of slashing their bark to get sap to make turpentine. Other pines which are found in these areas include longleaf pine, southern Florida slash pine, and pond pine. The floor of these forests is rough, rugged, and rocky.
At one time much of the eastern border of the park was covered by these forests, as they ran in a band about 4-5 miles wide some 50 miles to the south from Ft. Lauderdale. The Miami and Ft. Lauderdale areas used to be part of these pinelands.The only remaining portion of this forest is that which exists in the park.
The land in the Everglades is very flat (the highest point is only 8 feet!) and the wetlands are quite shallow, so elevations of even a few feet make a considerable difference in the character of the land and the vegetation which grows on it. Pinelands are located on the highest points which are rarely covered with water where there are pockets of fertile soil laying on the limestone base.
Fires which periodically sweep park areas are necessary for the survival of the pine forests, clearing undergrowth and promoting growth. Without fire, pineland areas will become overgrown, rather than open, and eventually dominated by hardwood trees. The slash pine itself has a corky bark which is quite resistant to fire. Hurricanes, however, can be a different matter. Hurricane Andrew's powerful winds snapped the trunks of about 30% of the parks pines in 1992.
The pine forests are rich with vegetation, supporting fully half the plant species in the park. Within the pine forests, based on the limestone floor, solution holes can be found. Alligators used to live in these pockets sin the limestone, but there isn't usually enough water anymore to support them.
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