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A Guide to the Everglades

The Everglades are located in the southern part of Florida, beginning at the Kissimmee River in Orland, and ending on the Florida Bay at the southernmost end of the state. They are a subtropical wetlands formed and re-formed by fire and water, flooding and drought. The Everglades are comprised of several different interdependent ecosystems including tropical hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, estuarine mangrove forests, pine rock land, and a marine environment when one reaches Florida Bay. In 1882 canals were constructed throughout the Everglades in order to drain the area to make better use of the land, spurring the economy and land development. The elimination of the buffering wetlands caused many problems with floods and hurricanes, and drainage plans had to be reevaluated. In 1947 Congress created the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, and the committee built 1,400 miles of water control devices such as canals and levees. Cities grew, and part of the Everglades became sugarcane farmland. Only approximately 50% of the original Everglades remain today. However, in the 1970’s attention was turned toward preservation of this wetland, and restoration has began to restore the area. In the year 2000, a plan to restore the Everglades was passed and was signed into law.

The Everglades are a wild place, a rugged place, and those who choose to visit there generally go with a spirit of adventure and a need to experience the outdoors and it’s many wonders. Fishing is a popular activity in the Everglades, as is bird watching, boating, camping, and exploring. Airboats are a popular way to get around, and many of these tours are available. One can also rent canoes or kayaks to explore independently around the rivers and wildlife or can bicycle across the land terrain. Families can even take a boat tour to experience the living habitats of the manatee or learn the skills of shelling from another establishment. Mostly, though, tourists enjoy the quietness of the Everglades and experiencing the wildlife up close and personal; and there are plenty opportunities to do that.

Due to its diverse ecosystems, there are many different animal species supported by the Everglades. Some of the animals found in the Florida Everglades are the panther, the black bear, mink, deer, the Silver rice rat, and the lower Keys Marsh rabbit. The West Indian manatee can also be found in the water and is a popular tourist attraction for the Everglades. Many, though, need to be rescued each year due to damage from boats coming too near. Reptiles indigenous to the area include the green sea turtle, the Atlantic salt marsh water snake, the Sand skink, the blue tail mole skink, and, of course, the American alligator and crocodile. Many stories abound about crocodile and alligator attacks in the Everglades of Florida, and many of these magnificent creatures can be seen when visitors take boat tours on the water. Many of the birds that can be seen on a visit to the Everglades are the American bald eagle, the wood stork, the brown pelican, the osprey, the snail kite, and the crested caracara.

The number of habitats in the Everglades also creates an environment for a vast number of plant species. There are several ecosystems such as the mangrove swamp which supports such plants as the Red, Black, and White Mangrove trees. There is the Marl Prairie which consists primarily of saw grass, which is not really grass at all, but a rough plant with raggedy edges. The Tropical Hardwood Hammock area boats many different species such as the gumbo limbo, cabbage palm, ink wood, and the Florida royal palm tree. In the Pinelands one would see the Slash Pine tree and the Saw Palmetto. The Coastal Prairie supports Glasswort and Pickrelweed, an aquatic plant. These and many other trees and plants can be seen and investigated in the Everglades, and one could spend much time exploring just the plant life while there.

As noted earlier, in the 1800’s there was an effort to dry up the wetlands of the Everglades, and this created problems with flooding and hurricanes. Therefore, a committee was formed to create water control devices and levees to protect the cities and farmlands which were created in the Everglades. Other consideration and concern in the Everglades in the vanishing wildlife and plant life due to population and creation of cities and towns. In 2000 the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was signed into law, and work began to recreate the Everglades and restore the area to its original state. This has become a very expensive prospect. In May 2010 Washington, D.C. will hold an Everglades Summit to generate even more support for this effort and cause. Some of the goals of this effort are to protect water quality, restore the Kissimmee River, provide drought storage, to reconnect Okeechobee River to the Everglades, and to restore Florida Bay.

There are some things that people should keep in mind when visiting the Everglades. It is a wild place, and an unpredictable place, and one must heed some caution when traveling by some modes of transportation. Alligators and crocodiles, for instance, live free and wild; kayaks and canoes bring one very close to their habitat. Swamps can contain a myriad of creatures such as snakes and insects which could be dangerous to people as well. Heat and humidity are intense during some seasons in the Everglades, and people need to stay hydrated and seek shade when they feel as if they are becoming overheated; and wear sunscreen to avoid sun poisoning.

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