Discover the Florida Everglades National Park
By Victoria Africano
What if I told you there was a one-of-a-kind place within the continental United States where:
- Alligators, Crocodiles, Panthers, Bobcats, Dolphins, Manatees, Snakes, Tortoises, Flamingos, and Bald Eagles live. Just to name a few residents.
- Nine different kinds of ecosystems coexist and form one of the Largest Wetlands in the World.
- The Miccosukee Tribe of Native Americans (a branch of the Seminole) live. They keep their culture, their language, and their way of life alive.
- You can Canoe, Kayak, go Slough Slogging, or take an Air Boat along Hundreds of Miles of Water Trails.
- You can Bike, Hike, or go Camping along Extensive Land Trails or a community beach cleanup with Ocean Blue Project.
- More than 8 Million People get their drinking water from here.
- You can discover over 750 completely different types of Plant Species. Bromeliads, Cacti, Succulents, Orchids, Marine Plants, Algae, Mangroves, Cypress Trees, Mahogany Trees, Wildflowers….
Then what if I told you there were no less than five airports close enough to get you to this unique and magical land?
If you haven’t visited the Florida Everglades National Park yet, start making plans. And be ready to be Wowed by the Best of Mother Nature.
What Makes The Florida Everglades So Special?
Most people think that the Florida Everglades is a swamp, but it’s actually a HUGE river! It’s the World’s Shallowest and Slowest Moving River as a matter of fact. Its water flows south from Lake Okeechobee towards the Gulf of Mexico at a max velocity of one meter per hour. This means that it might take a drop of water a whole year to make the trip from start to finish.
The Florida Everglades is nicknamed “The Sea of Grass”. The entirety of its extensive plant network acts as a natural purification system. It filters out pollutants as the water journeys from north to south. This water is actually most of South Florida’s drinking water (one third of Floridians).
Florida Everglades Facts
This ingenious design by Mother Nature is also integral for the Everglades’ ecosystems. Not only do the plants keep the water clean but they also help to reduce flooding and erosion.
The whole ecosystem helps to create—and maintain—habitats for thousands of species. Not to mention that millions of humans depend on the health and clean water of the Everglades to stay alive, too.
The sheer size of this National Park—at a whopping 1.5 million acres—is astounding! It covers 16 counties, taking up about 20% of the state of Florida. And it’s the third largest National Park in the Continental United States. It’s literally an interactive water filtration system the size of Delaware.
Its millions of spectacular integrants include:
- Over 350 bird species (it’s a haven for bird watching tours)
- 100 butterfly species
- 300 fish species
- 40 mammal species
- 50 reptile species
- 750 very diverse plant species (including 120 species of trees). Many of them aren’t found anywhere else on earth.
Many of these species are threatened and/or endangered. All of them rely on the delicate balances that forged the ecosystems where they’re found.
Which Visitor Center Should You Tour First?
There are currently four main Visitor Centers that are open to the public year round. They all have on-site Park Rangers and Naturalists that offer different kinds of guided tours. Depending on what you want to see, do, or visit while in the Florida Everglades you’ll want your first stop to be:
- Shark Valley Visitor Center: This entrance is about an hour from Miami. Walk, rent a bike, or ride the tram along a 15-mile loop and check out amazing concentrations of wildlife. Climb the observation tower and get a spectacular 360-degree view of your surroundings.
- Visit the Miccosukee Tribe Village en-route to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Take a tour and learn about the tribe’s culture and history. Enjoy handicrafts demonstrations, sample local cuisine (try the alligator). Take an airboat tour through the Everglades and a visit to a traditional Miccosukee camp.
- Royal Palm Visitor Center: This entrance is in Homestead, also about an hour from Miami. Choose from two main trails (or do both) that set out from here where you’ll be sure to witness a wide variety of wildlife. One trail is a boardwalk; the other is paved. If you continue south to Flamingo, you’ll also see a lot of trails heading off the main road that you can go explore.
- Flamingo Visitor Center: This entrance sits on the Florida Bay at the south end of the Everglades. Jump on one of the many boat tours that’ll take you through vast waterways where you’ll see thousands of birds. Not to mention a whole lot of both fresh and saltwater marine life. Rent kayaks, canoes, bicycles, hike along the many trails, camp at the campground, and more.
- Gulf Coast Visitor Center: This entrance lies in Everglades City. It’s the access point for tours to the Mangrove Estuary of the Ten Thousand Islands. Take a narrated boat tour or rent a kayak or canoe. You’ll see a lot of saltwater marine life and many different varieties of bird species.
These visitor centers are in different corners of the park. You’ll appreciate different types of ecosystems in and around each one. You can spend a packed half-day or full-day at any of these phenomenal sites.
Or, camp on-site and enjoy a multi-day visit so you can enjoy a variety of different daytime activities. During the night, you can stargaze free from light pollution. And enjoy the musical midnight choruses of insects and amphibians.
If you live for unique nature trips, I recommend doing a full circuit loop of all four Visitor Centers. This includes a 7-10 day canoe or kayak trip along the Wilderness Waterway. This trail connects the Flamingo and Gulf Coast Visitor Centers.
Human Impact on the Florida Everglades
In the late 1800s, white settlers, politicians and developers began a “Drain-The-Everglades” campaign. They wrote off the Florida Everglades as good-for-nothing swamp-land.
They didn’t understand its integral role in the well-being of the environment. They began to change the course of the Florida Everglades for the worse. Wastewater pollution, dredging, draining, agricultural development (fertilizers) has hurt and changed the Everglades.
Today, the water quality is compromised. The area is smaller and there are over 225 Threatened or Endangered species.
Thankfully the Florida Everglades was declared a National Park in 1947. Environmentalists, activists, and Native Tribes continue to keep this important ecosystem healthy. Some Restoration Plans came into effect in the 2000s.
Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades
Besides habitat degradation, other threatening problems for native wildlife are invasive species in the Florida Everglades. They can wipe out native populations by competing for habitat or food sources. They can also carry infectious diseases or they can prey on them.
Two aggressive invasive species are the Burmese Pythons and the Yellow Anacondas. These two snake species are from Asia and South America respectively. It’s thought that people released their pet snakes into the Everglades. The snakes adapted quickly and easily to the environment.
There are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 Burmese Pythons living in the Florida Everglades. A record number was removed in 2020.
Become a Steward by Visiting the Everglades
If you come to the Florida Everglades, be proud to consider yourself an Ambassador to the park. You’ll support local Conservation Agencies’ and Native populations’ Restoration Efforts by visiting.
There’s no other place on earth like the Florida Everglades. The more we learn about how Florida ecosystems work, the more we can appreciate the connection to all that surrounds us.
Climate Change is impacting the world and the Florida Everglades are not exempt. It’s important to protect this wonderland from Droughts, Fires, and Rising Sea Levels.
If we learn about why we should watch what we send down our water drains, we’ll be able to help others learn why they should protect their waters, too. We can also learn which companies are polluting our water systems and boycott their products.
It doesn’t matter if you live in Florida or elsewhere—All of the World’s Waters are Connected. And it’s good practice to develop conscious habits, go where you may. See you in the Florida Everglades!
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