Everglades National Park: A Lazy Flowing River

Words cannot adequately describe the experiences you will have spending a week at The Everglades National Park. You are definitely strangers in a strange land: a very fragile ecosystem for all of Southern Florida and the entire nation. The Everglades has two seasons: wet and dry. This is the dry season, until May or June.

Camp at Lone Pine. The pinelands region is an important ecosystem in the everglades, being the home to many different animals: panthers, bobcats, deer, black bear, raccoons, alligators, and an assortment of snakes, etc. These animals like their privacy. Even though you might not see many during your stay, they most probably were looking at you. What you will see is an abundance of alligators doing what they do best during the day: working on their sun tan. They feed at night and will eat almost anything that moves. Go to one trail at night to see them in action and you will not be disappointed.

One day we actually saw an alligator running through the campgrounds. He/she spotted a dog hanging out the window of a van. The gator, who can reach speeds of thirty-five mph, made a beeline for the dog and hid behind a tree, less than six feet from the van. Luckily for the dog, the owner did not take it for a walk. A week before there was a major confrontation between a twenty-foot Burmese python, an exotic species brought into the park by tourists, and an alligator. The gator had the python&25263; head in his mouth, while the snake had his coils around the gator. The gator went to the bottom of the pond for twenty-five minutes at a crack to drown the snake. This went on for over twenty-four hours. Turned out to be a stalemate. The male and female pythons have located each other and are raising families (another major problem facing the Park ecosystem). The government is n ow making a major effort to rid the park of the pythons.

Slash pines grow to sixty feet in height with an undergrowth of saw palmetto and sabal (cabbage) palm. Every seven years or so, the undergrowth must be set afire to allow new growth to take place and to avoid allowing the hardwood forest to overtake the unique pine land forest. Among the pine forest are hardwood hammocks, the home of gumbo limbo trees, live oaks, tamarind trees. Many varieties of tree snails, having immigrated from Cuba centuries racing rivals hack ago make their homes on these trees, eating the lichen. They come in many different color combinations, besides all white or black. They were prized by collectors in the past and were almost eradicated.

Throughout the Pine lands, are many miles of hiking and biking trails; mostly old logging roads from before the 1940s. The best way share this site to see the area is with a Park Ranger. Even though you might go on the same trail more than once, you see something different each trip and learn more about the various birds, plants and animals.

Thirty-four miles south is Florida Bay and Flamingo Campgrounds. This is the area of the mangrove tree forests check more and the tropical saltwater ecosystem. Mangroves remind me of the Ents in ”The Lord of the Rings” and the pods from ”Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” They grow standing on their root systems which allows the tides to wash under them. They provide a haven for the small aquatic life from the larger predators. For a long time people thought they were useless, but found that their leaves, when decomposing, provide nourishment for the fish. One thousand pounds of dropped leaves yields over seven thousand pounds of edible fish for human consumption.

Flamingo is the this website home for many sea birds: pelicans (who fly up to 10,000 feet when migrating), bald eagles, osprey, skimmers, terns, gulls, cormorants, anhingas, hawks, ever present vultures, etcBesides the bird life, there are crocodiles, manatees, and many small rodents and mammals.

There is one downside about Flamingo: INSECTS (TOO MANY MOSQUITOES AND NO-SEE&25207;MS). Nosee&25266;ms are very small and you do not see them; only feel their bites. The hotter and wetter the weather, the more the insects do their thing: eat and reproduce. The National Park Service offers ranger led canoe trips two and a half hours in length. Take the one on Florida Bay.

The Everglades National Park has so much to offer. The population of wildlife is only about ten percent of what it was thirty years ago. Water management programs have starved the everglades of their needed water and have given it to the ever increasing population of South Florida and to the subsidized sugar cane farmers. These are the primary recipients of the water. The Glades are low on the totem pole. The Everglades are not dead yet, but are very sick. The environmental practices as far north as Orlando have repercussions even to Key West. People definitely need water to survive. But why subsidize the sugar cane industry. It takes more than one thousand gallons of water to grow one pound of sugar. Besides the water usage, they over fertilize the ground, which invites the growth of foreign plants. They also pollute the air with their refineries. You can see the smoke from miles around. Besides killing the Everglades, sugar kills people too. Many rangers feel optimistic about the future, but are still concerned about the priorities of the politicians. Money talks. Who has the money? Developers and corporate agriculture.

There are two other sections to the Everglades. Take The Tamiami Trail West about twenty miles to Shark Valley, another river within the Everglades. Rent a bicycle or take the tram tour around the twenty-three mile loop. At the far end an observation tower gives you a birds-eye view of the park. Watch out for the alligators, who might be sunning themselves on the trail.

Further down in Everglades City is the tour of the 10,000 islands branch of the Everglades. No there are not 10,000 islands; more like 13,000 islands. They are continually built by the mangroves which take root in the shallow waters and grow. The mangrove groves are the nurseries to much of the fish living in the oceans. They are a boon to our ecosystem.