Southwest Florida is surrounded by beauty; however, our minds usually wander to images of white, sandy beaches and glorious sunsets, not a swamp. Well, the swamp at Big Cypress is a thing of beauty. A beauty I had seen captured by the world-famous Clyde Butcher in wall-sized, black and white splendor but had never witnessed in person.
All that changed on a recent Sunday, as I joined along as the guides practiced their Swamp Walks in preparation of the Clyde Butcher Annual Fall Festival. Let’s just say, I was ill-prepared. Not in the sense that I didn’t know what to wear or what to bring along. No, I was sporting long sleeves, long pants, and old tennis shoes. I had water for hydration and a snack on hand. Yes, I had been adequately notified that I would get wet, would want my skin protected, would need a change of clothes for later, and would need to stay hydrated. What I wasn’t prepared for was the enormity of the beauty that would surround me. I was startled by the intricate designs of the plants, the clearness of the water, the sense of being lost in time in an area untouched by modernization, and the instinct to respect and preserve this piece of nature.
To experience the beauty of Big Cypress for yourself, plan on attending the Annual Fall Festival held October 27th and 28th at the Big Cypress Gallery. The event is free to the public and offers an exceptional learning experience provided by the Big Cypress National Park Rangers and volunteers from the South Florida National Park Trust. Clyde and Niki Butcher will be in attendance all weekend long, and the event marks their last visit to the gallery for 2018. Clyde will be available for book signing and signing his new 2019 calendar, which honors the 50th anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon.
Swamp Walk Tours will be available each day from 9 AM to 3 PM, leaving every hour. Reservations are encouraged. Swamp Walks are $50 per person, kids are free. There is a height requirement for children. Adults with recent joint injuries or surgeries are cautioned. Terrain is rough and use of walking sticks is required (and provided). All proceeds from the walks will be donated to the Big Cypress National Preserve Education Department.
The Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery is located at 52388 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee, Florida. Reservations for the Fall Festival Swamp Walk Tours may be made by calling 239-695-2428 or by visiting clydebutcher.com.