Sunday, September 27, 2020

Big Cypress Preserve…Great Changes Coming!

STEPPING STONES


A great egret snags a fish from the canal near the boardwalk entrance. Photos by Bob McConville

A great egret snags a fish from the canal near the boardwalk entrance. Photos by Bob McConville

Join Bob at the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) auditorium on August 9th at 7 PM when he talks about the new opportunities coming for the public to enjoy the Big Cypress Preserve. MIHS members are free, $10 admission for all other guests.

Many of our island residents and visitors are aware that the Everglades and its surrounding parks are not very far away, but only a handful know how close they actually are. Just 20 minutes from Marco, a short drive down U.S. 41, you can enjoy the western boundary of a vast, natural region that is nearly as pristine as it was thousands of years ago.

Covering 80,000 acres, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is the largest and least developed of all Florida State Parks. This western edge of the ‘Glades is, itself, hydrologically linked to the Everglades and is extremely important to the estuarine ecosystem of

Big Cypress Preserve residents, red shouldered hawks, are sometimes seen and most definitely heard along the boardwalk on a regular basis.

Big Cypress Preserve residents, red shouldered hawks, are sometimes seen and most definitely heard along the boardwalk on a regular basis.

the Ten Thousand Islands.

Mother Nature has painted a portrait that includes prairies, salt marshes, cypress forests, mangrove islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, sloughs and native royal palm trees. This area is one of the most biologically rich places of the Everglades. Running through the Big Cypress Preserve is the Fakahatchee Strand, the world’s largest strand swamp.

Making their homes here are 47 native orchids, 38 native ferns, and 14 native bromeliads. Not to be ignored by any means is the largest population of native royal palms in the United States.

All of this vegetation provides a welcome home for several threatened species, such as the mangrove fox squirrel, Everglades mink, wood storks, American crocodile, Florida black bear, and the always elusive Florida panther.

Opportunities to view these wonders are limited to a few hiking trails, the road on Jayne’s Scenic Drive and the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk. However, things are about to change

Alligators are a common sight in Big Cypress. Look for hatchlings in the water in the next few months.

Alligators are a common sight in Big Cypress. Look for hatchlings in the water in the next few months.

and change for the better. Plans are currently progressing to provide viewing availability to areas never seen by the general public.

Just east of the entrance to the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk you might notice that a new traffic de-acceleration lane has been completed. This is part of Phase 1 of the plan that will include a parking area, a bridge across the canal and a new walkway connecting to the existing boardwalk.

Phase 2 will include a 1,500-foot canopy walk designed as a loop so that visitors can enter and exit with ease. The beautiful Green Heron Lake, which is not visible from the road or the current boardwalk, will have an overlook and a shelter. A modern interpretive pavilion and an outdoor plaza for education is also planned, plus a visitors’ facility and restrooms.

My understanding is that funding is in place for both phases and permits are being established

 

 

so that this project can progress.

On a personal note, I have spent many, many days on the boardwalk, conducting tours for anyone who wanted to learn about this hidden jewel of the Everglades and also enjoying the area known as the “Amazon of the North” on my own time. The improvements that are planned here will surely enhance the experience for visitors, so that they will not only see, but also understand the importance of this national, natural landmark.

Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours, conducting walking tours of the western Everglades. He is also a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer, as part of an ongoing survey of area dolphins. His book “Beyond The Mangrove Trees” is a pictorial look at area wildlife with more than 160 unique photos, and is available at several local outlets as well as online at steppingstoneecotours.com. Bob loves his wife very much!

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