The Everglades once were a very remote area of Florida that was home to a Native American (Indian) settlement. For many years, the harsh environment kept only the most adventurous from the area. Long before the Everglades became a National Park, Gladesman layed claim to land, built small structures and lived off the abundant resources. They did not threaten the delicate ecosystem. Eventually, Developers started encroaching on the Everglades and started draining the swamps to build houses. In response to the threat of developers and in order to preserve a national treasure, in 1947, the United States Government created Everglades National Park.
The Everglades National Park is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states. With an area covering 2500 square miles or approximately 1.5 million acres, the park is home to a number of different ecosystems, including over 1,000 plant species, 350 bird species and 40 mammals. They are of course best known for their reptiles, led by the American Alligator. There are plenty of other reptiles like snakes, turtles and even some iguanas. For a nature lover, there is no place in the world where you can observe so many species of life.
The Everglades National Park stretches across the southern third of the state of Florida. It is a short drive from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and there are also several entrances further south for those who may be coming from the Keys or other areas south of Miami. Plan to spend a full day because there is so much to see and do.
The Everglades has a number of different ecosystems. There are hardwood hammocks, mangrove forests, coastal lowlands and freshwater sloughs. There is also an 800 square mile marine estuary as well as pineland, cypress stands and freshwater prairies. Each offers unique opportunities to hike or boat and observe the many species of plants, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles. You can choose to explore on your own or take a guided tour with one of the park rangers.
Bird watchers will really enjoy the chance to spot over 350 species of birds. Wading birds that call the Everglades home include a number of different Herons, Egrets and the Ibis. There are Canadian geese, ducks, hummingbirds, hawks and vultures. You may see a bald eagle or a spoonbill. A few other birds that may come into view are blackbirds, sparrows, orioles, meadowlarks and the mockingbird.
People come to the Everglades to see gators. Alligators can be found in bodies of water all around Florida, but they are most at home right in the Everglades. Never feed alligators and do not get too close, especially to the small babies as mother gators are extremely protective of their young. While walking through some of the natural habitat you may encounter a snake. Usually, snakes are scared of you and will slither away. Actually of the 2 dozen or so species, only 4 are poisonous (Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth Pigmy Rattlesnake and Coral Snake).
One of the fun things to do is to take an airboat ride through the “River of Grass”. There are a number of companies that offer airboat rides throughout different areas of the Everglades. The fan is loud, but the driver and tour guide will cut the engine in order to describe different areas and answer any of your questions.
The Micosukee Indian Reservation is located off of the Tamiami Trail (the road you take from Miami) and offers a place to dine, alligator wrestling shows and a gift shop of Native American arts and crafts. If you are staying overnight, they have a hotel/casino where you can relax and enjoy all the modern conveniences of a luxury hotel.
When going to the Everglades, remember you will be in an environment where there are lots of insects. You should bring some insect repellent and wear long pants. It may be hot so bring some bottled water. Remember you are in a fragile environment. Enjoy the day, observe, but don’t disturb the natural beauty.