Everglades National Park - between the cities of Naples and Miami in Florida
Just 35 miles down the road from Naples, Florida is one of the largest wetland ecosystems in the United States and that is the Everglades National Park, at Homestead, Florida. It is a one and a half million acre park on the southern tip of Florida between the Floridian cities of Naples and Miami. No other national park in North America preserves such a singular and threatened ecosystem. Many of the animals, birds, fish and reptiles here in the park are on the endangered list for survival.
And, this summer, there were actually wildfires in the Everglades because of a drought we are having in Florida at this time. The sawgrass marshes, pine trees and other foliage in the Everglades were on fire this summer, due to the heat and extremely hot weather this area of Florida experiences in the summer. With the water in the wetlands literally evaporating because of the drought, the Everglades are more in danger of extinction than ever before. The state of Florida and environmentalists are trying to ensure its conservation for the future, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy the scenery, landscapes and wildlife of the Florida Everglades.
There is much wildlife in the park. Many of the birds you can enjoy are the
- Roseate Spoonbills
- Smooth-billed Anis
- Snail Kites
- Mangrove Cuckoos
And, there are approximately 350 other species of birds in the Everglades not found elsewhere in the U.S. That is why it so important that this national park and its wildlife be preserved for generations to come.
One of the most important animal/mammal in the Everglades is the Florida panther. It is a beautiful, large animal that is a golden-brown, long-tailed cat. There are fewer than fifty left in the Everglades today. The Florida panther represents the environmental deterioration that has plagued the Everglades in the last several years. Signs along the highway that say "Panther Crossing" will not be needed in a few years if these beautiful cats become extinct. Environmentalists are doing everything possible to preserve these beautiful cats in the Everglades.
The American crocodile, a saltwater reptile, is one of the unique and endangered animals in the Everglades. It is rarely seen and fewer than six hundred crocodiles remain in the Everglades. Within a few years, if they are not protected more, they will become extinct. What a sad statement will be made about the U.S. if our country allows this to happen.
The natural environment in the Everglades is becoming smaller and smaller as time goes on. Today, the park covers only twenty percent of the Everglades original area. The remainder of the Everglades has been diked and drained and the surface has been cut off from the inches deep and miles wide sheet of surface water that flows across the area and gives it life. This has been done to prevent the wildfires that have been starting to ignite and because of the shortage of park rangers and animal workers left to work in the Everglades park.
Five Main Areas of the Everglades Park to Explore
1. Ten Thousand Islands are named for the many small mangrove islands that line the coast southwest of Everglades City. Here visitors can canoe and sea kayakers can navigate the 99 mile mangrove lined Wilderness Waterway which begins in Everglades City and ends at Flamingo at the tip of the peninsula. It takes several days to make this trip and only experienced paddlers should attempt this waterway. Permits are required by the park because of the wind, weather and inaccessibility of fresh water. Shorter over-night or day trips can be planned with Everglades City as the departure and return destination. Permits are required for overnight outings, but not for day trips. Canoe rentals and boat tours are available at the concession store at Flamingo Lodge and Marina and in Everglades Ctiy. An airboat ride through the Everglades is a fun way to see the sights: alligators, pelians, and other species of birds and reptiles living in the wetlands here. It skims the water and flies along the wetlands stopping to see important wildlife.
2. Shark Valley is the place the kids will love. It is situated on Tamiami Trail in the northeast corner of the park. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is located here and provides access to a shallow, slow-moving 50-mile wide body of water known as Shark River Slough and this slough is a critical link to preservation of the fragile Everglades ecosystem. Currents that slowly run throught its channel supply much of the water that keeps the park healthy. There are many ranger led programs and hikes, nature and bike trails and an observation tower for a wide-eyed view of the Everglades. Only foot traffic, bicycles and park operated trams are allowed in this area of the park. The car must be left in the nearby parking lot. This is a fragile ecosystem and to preserve the land and the animals in the park, cars are not permitted to drive here.
3. Royal Palm is the first stop along the main park road to Flamingo. It is a boardwalk through a forested wetland of Button Bushes and Pond Apples. The boardwalk is part of the Anhinga Trail, which runs along Taylor Slough. Alligators are easily seen here as they are one animal very abundant in the Everglades and in all of Florida. Alligators are freshwater reptiles. The Gumbo Limbo Trail, is a half mile jog through a tropical hammock and begins near the end of the parking lot.
4. Long Pine Key is an excellent recreation area and campground; however, no showers are available here. It is really misnamed as it is really not a key but a large pine island surrounded by wetlands. It is on the main park road less than four miles from the main entrance to the park. There are hiking trails through rimrock pines and tropical hammocks and there is a lot of wildlife and botany to see on these hikes. Pinelands and other Trails is a half mile long and is the first stop west of Long Pine Key. It features a southern Florida rimrock pine habitat. Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail leads to an observation tower with a view of endless marshy glades from which the park gets its name. A boardwalk runs just above a sawgrass marsh and a muck substrate can be seen . Mahogany Hammmock Trail is seven miles past Pa-hay-oke, and is a half mile long boardwalk that passes through a mature tropical hammock.. Mahogany trees lline the trail and colorful Florida tree snails are found here. Paurotis Pond is an artificial lake in which grow the dainty thin-trunked Everglades Palm trees.
5. Flamingo Recreation Area is on the edge of the Florida Bay. It has a campground that is open only in the fall, winter and spring months. There is a marine, lodge, museum, boat tours, canoe rentals, visitor center, and wildlife watching. Canoe trails begin here. Paddle boats can be rented and run through Nine Mile Pond, Noble Hammock, Hell's Bay, Coot Bay, and Bear Lake. There are walking and hiking trails at Bear Lake, Christian Point, Rowdy Bend, Eco Pond, and Coastal Praire Trails. And, there is kayaking in Florida Bay.
Getting Around the Everglades
When visiting the National Everglades Park, come prepared to stay several days to truly see the whole park. Royal Palm and Flamingo are the most accessible destinations in the park. There is a thirty-seven mile driving road (Rt. 9336) that travels from the main park entrance off U.S. 1 to Flamingo with several scenic stopping points and short hiking trails. Those with more time can take the route along Tamiami Trail that begins at Everglades City, thirty-five miles southeast of Naples via U.S. 41 and Route 29. This follows an eighty mile course that runs west to east. Tamiami Trail runs through Big Cypress National Preserve in which visitors can see the famous cypress trees of Florida. This route provides excellent views of subtropical Florida and its flora and fauna. It is a great route through the Everglades and a chance to experience the Everglades ecosystem.
Fall, winter and spring are the best times to vist the Everglades. The weather is temperate and it does not rain much normally during these seasons. Summer is extremely hot and humid in this subtropical part of Florida. You are literally at the tip of the peninsula when you are in the Everglades, and the biting insects and mosquitoes are awful and bothersome in the summer months. As mentioned before, lately wildfires have been breaking out in the Everglades in the summer months, and even if you are viewing nature away from the fires, the smoke inhalation is deadly here in the summer.
There are four separate entrances to the National Everglades Park:
- Homestead and Florida City - these are the main entrances and are located on the east coast
- Shark Valley
- Everglades City - on the west coast
The National Everglades Park is open year round, but as mentioned before, the best times to visit are fall, winter and spring. If you can only come in the summer, by all means, see the park, but it is not as pleasant as in the other months.
There are visitor centers at
- Gulf Coast
- Shark Valley
- Ernest F. Coe
- Royal Palm
Everglades National Park
40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, Florida 33034-6733
A visit to Florida is not complete without seeing America's best wetlands and ecosystem in the country. Because some animals and wildlife are becoming extinct, the sooner you visit the National Everglades Park the better. You wouldn't want to miss seeing a real Florida panther or crocodile would you?
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