Everglades National Park, Florida

Arguably the king in terms of natural wetlands to visit in South Florida, Everglades National Park, which extends over 1.5-million acres, bears no comparison. Rich in everything from fauna and flora, to breath-taking landscapes, it is heavily protected as a gem of international heritage and offers eye-opening insights into the natural world. It has an interesting history, and is a remarkable place to visit, redolent of the sheer enormity of American nature. Photo: Photo: John Anderson/Fotolia

»History

History


Long before being discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, the region which is now known as the Everglades was populated by several distinct indigenous peoples including the Calusa, Tequesta, Jega and Ais communities, who were all non-agrarian and fed off the land by fishing and foraging. These people, who were understood to have been dominated by the Calusa, and were living in the area for some 15,000 years before the colonialists arrived, almost completely disappeared with the arrival of the Europeans due to the spread of western illnesses, but they were recognized for their intricate and sophisticated shell work, the uses of which are not known or documented. It is, however, understood that the Calusa made not only objects with shells, but also architecture and borders between terrorities with bits and pieces of shells from the water. They are also known to have espoused sophisticated religious traditions and social hierarchies.

From some time in the 19th century, a sub-culture of land purveyors, known as Gladesmen, began to develop in the region. The area was the focus and context of a number of colonialist wars between the 16th century and the late 17th century, but the Gladesmen, for whom the park is named, were a group of American sons and husbands, after the territorial wars, who empowered themselves by learning the currents of the land and how to maintain it. They were men who learnt how to survive in this landscape for long periods of time, without the need for outside sustenance, and they discovered the temperamental nature of the environment and learned to respect it and live within it. The Gladesmen were named as such because of glade skiffs, which were the narrow boats that they made in order to travel through the wetlands.

As the Everglades became more formalized as a landscape entity – and it was a piece of land about 50% bigger than it is today – so did the Gladesmen

continue to flourish through the generations. The current generation of Gladesmen is still the spiritual stewards of the national park, albeit with some of their living patterns circumscribed by the park’s regulations and protection as a heritage facility. Photo: Alejandro Cupi/Fotolia

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»More History

More History


From 1905, attempts were made by landowners and early Americans to drain the Everglades, and farm it so that people could live there. These successful initiatives and gestures saw a booming in Florida real estate and the blossoming of brand new towns in the 1920s such as Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. As always, the casualty with such developments was the existence of the older communities, as canals, roads and bridges were incised into the landscape, effectively changing it forever. Indeed, from 1910, parts of the area became known in commercial markets for the production of coal from Buttonwood trees, sugarcane farming and plumage for fashion accessories, which derived from feathers taken from the plethora of birds who called the region home.

Today, all of these regions are sophisticated and scenic, but their evolution from the wetlands was not easy, given that wetlands are traditionally breeding places for all manner of potential irritants to human visitors, including mosquitoes by the millions and also considering political issues surrounding the land. Existing over a large part of a massive natural drainage basin on the one side, and a neotropic ecozone on the other, it is a genuine wetland with trajectories of lakes, rivers and streams that are astonishing to see.

From the 1970s, awareness that the land was continually being encroached upon for commercial development, caused Unesco, in conjunction with the Ramsar Convention to make the Everglades a Wetland Area of National Importance, which ensures that it is protected, and from this time, various constructions, such as an airport and a canal, were removed because they were significantly encroaching on the area. Research continues in the region, with an eye on keeping the six living ecosystems – of sawgrass marshes and sloughs; tropical hardwood; pines; cypresses; mangrove and coastal prairie and Florida Bay – intact and functioning. Photo: mtilghma/Fotolia

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»Facilities

Facilities

The Everglades National Park boasts four fully equipped and competently staffed visitor centers, in the towns of Homestead, Miami and Florida, which are situated on its borders. These centers and the gates to the park are far apart from one another and you need to plan your trip accordingly from the point at which you wish to access the park and the things you wish to experience while you are there. But it is imperative that you include a visitor center as your starting point, so that you can adequately gain your bearings, equip yourself and plan your way accordingly.

The Ernest F Coe Visitor Center, near the park’s Homestead entrance, offers a sophisticated array of everything from educational films and art, to a general store which sells maps, snacks and other camping necessities. It is open every day of the year, until 5pm. In Miami, there are two visitor centers: Flamingo and Shark Valley. While Flamingo boasts a sit-down restaurant, it doesn’t stock all your hiking needs, and you need to equip yourself carefully – with your own drinking water as well – so as not to find yourself without basic necessities as you enter the park. The center does however, offer valuable insights into the Everglades’ canoeing and walking trails. Nearby, Shark Valley Visitor Center offers basic amenities too, but if you are travelling with public transport, in particular Uber, you may experience difficulty accessing it.

If you are keen to explore Everglades’ famous Ten Thousand Islands, a fascinating cluster of mangrove islands arranged in an untouched maze of subtropical forestry, you should access the park through the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, which is nearest to Florida. This is a fully equipped visitor center boasting all the amenities, supplies and information you may need. Photo: Jaimie Tuchman /Fotolia

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»Visit Everglades

Visit Everglades


Your visit to Everglades, much like your visit to any enormous natural terrain, is largely determined by the weather and the time of the year. So if you are keen to get a strong overview into the magic of Everglades and to see the myriads of flocks of wading birds that frequent the area, it is far better to visit Everglades during the dry season, which lasts from November to March of each year. Because it is a wetland environment, it classically goes through two primary seasons. The wet season, between April and November, tends to be heavily populated by insects and for this reason, is not popular for visitors.

There are lots of exciting things to do in the natural environment of Everglades, from birdwatching and canoeing to biking and fishing, but if you still don’t feel stimulated enough, there are further attractions nearby, including the Dry Tortugas National Park in Mexico, the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida and Florida’s Biscayne National Park. It’s an area of the Americas which is rich with untouched nature and you must drink in the unmitigated beauty of the surrounds.

When you visit, other than taking heed of the standard realities and precautions of camping in an unspoiled natural environment in which you need to exercise vigilance and respect, when you visit Everglades, be aware of the vultures and the alligators in the area. For unknown reasons, the vultures have been discovered to be deeply attracted to the insulating rubber around windscreens in vehicles. They also have a penchant for windscreen wipers and the insulation around a sunroof on a vehicle. For this reason, protect your vehicle, particularly if you will be leaving it standing for long periods of time, by always parking it in direct sun, by covering the windscreen and sunroof with either a tarpaulin or a wet towel. With regard to the alligators, they will probably be more afraid of you than you are of them, but these are massive predators and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. For this reason, you should always maintain a 15-to-20 foot distance from any wild animals and do not swim, dive or snorkel in any of the streams, rivers or freshwater lakes of the park for this reason.

While the park will not close at night and you will not be locked in, bear in mind that the access points to the park are only staffed until 6pm, every night of the year. While there are no formal lodging facilities in Everglades where you can sleep overnight, the park has two campsites: the Long Pine Key campsite, near Homestead and the Flamingo campsite, 38 miles from the Homestead gate, where for a nominal fee, you can set up your tent.

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Everglades National Park, Florida


  • History, Photo: Courtesy of Alejandro Cupi - Fotolia.com
  • More History, Photo: Courtesy of mtilghma - Fotolia.com
  • Facilities, Photo: Courtesy of Jaimie Tuchman - Fotolia.com
  • Visit Everglades, Photo: Courtesy of Vinoverde - Fotolia.com
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of John Anderson - Fotolia.com