Monday, February 19, 2018

Changes are coming to Fakahatchee


Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

Strand Preserve State Park; some from restorations of the Everglades ecosystem and some from the efforts of people who dearly love this magical wonderland. Southwest Florida Master Naturalist Bob McConville recently addressed an ecominded group at the Rose History Auditorium, leading them on a virtual tour of this most precious forested strand. Also known as the Amazon of North America, these 85,000 acres are home to many endangered wildlife species, 44 native orchid species (including the mysterious and alluring “ghost orchid”) and 14 native bromeliad types. Made up of swamps, prairies, tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rock lands, the Strand is the home of Florida black bears, Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks, and many varieties of resident and migratory birds. It is said to be the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the same forest canopy.

 

 

Located just 45 minutes south of Naples and 1½ hours west of Miami, the Fakahatchee Strand has been sculpted by the movement of water. Clean fresh water is of utmost importance to the Strand’s existence. Over the years, the increasing human population combined with land development brought forth the need of faster drainage for flood control and a fresh water supply for human needs. Unfortunately, the results of these efforts endangered and threatened 68 plant and animal species. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was started in 2000 as a 30 year plan to restore South Florida’s natural ecosystem while still maintaining flood control and water supply for urban and agricultural centers. The plan includes the alteration of more than 260 miles of roads and the plugging of 40 miles of canals to allow the water to spread naturally across the land on its way to the Ten Thousand Islands. This restoration will bring a healthy balance to the ecosystem and improve the habitat for many endangered species.

Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Submitted Photos

Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Submitted Photos

The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is the largest of all Florida state parks. It is indeed one of the most biologically diverse regions of the Everglades. In spite of limited and undeveloped access, the park had over 121,000 visitors last year. There are no gates and no roads except the unpaved Jane’s Scenic Drive. The Florida State Park Service and the all-volunteer non-profit organization, Friends of Fakahatchee (FOF), have partnered in a project to improve visitor safety and expand the facilities. The State Legislature has recently approved $1.3 million in funding for the upgrades. The restoration and expansion project goals include the replacement and upgrade of the existing Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, the creation of a new arrival zone off the highway and a new parking area with restrooms and a picnic area. Other plans include a scenic bridge over the canal that runs parallel to the Tamiami Trail. Future plans include a visitor’s center and interpretive pavilion along with ADA accessible boardwalks, trails, an observation platform and a crushed-shell path.

The Fakahatchee Strand is indeed a gem of Southwest Florida, so adequately captured in a video, “The Jewel of the Everglades.” The video can be viewed at the Friends of Fakahatchee website, www.orchidswamp.org. Please visit the website for donation and volunteer opportunities along with directions to the park and an abundance of other valuable information.

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