Established December 6, 1947
A short parade of visitors follows a ranger on an Everglades nature walk. For more than an hour she has shown them the living wonders around them—butterflies and snails, alligators and fish, and bird after bird. Near the end of the walk, she gathers the visitors around her. She points to a string of nine white ibis coursing a cloudless sky.
“Imagine seeing ibis in the 1930s,” she says. “That would have been a flight of about 90 birds. We are seeing only about 10 percent of the wading birds that were here then. When you get home, write your congressmen and tell them we have to save Everglades.” Though park staff may not lobby Congress, in this threatened national park, lobbying happens on nature walks and appears in official literature.
Everglades National Park is at the southern tip of the everglades in Florida, a hundred-mile-long subtropical wilderness of saw- grass prairie, junglelike hammock, and mangrove swamp, that originally ran from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Water, essential to the survival of this ecosystem, once flowed south from the lake unhindered. But as the buildup of southern Florida has intensified, canals, levees, and dikes have increasingly diverted the water to land developments and agribusinesses. Vast irrigated farmlands have spread to the park’s gates. The waning of the ibis carries a warning: Watery habitats in the park are shrinking because not enough water is getting to Everglades.
The park’s special mission inspires the crusade to save it. Unlike early parks established to protect scenery, Everglades was created to preserve a portion of this vast ecosystem as a wildlife habitat. The park’s unique mix of tropical and temperate plants and animals— including more than 700 plant and 300 bird species, as well as the endangered manatee, threatened crocodile, and Florida panther— has prompted UNESCO to grant it international biosphere reserve status as well as World Heritage site designation.
Everglades environmentalists and crusaders urge the purchase of privately owned wetlands east and north of the park. This would further protect the ecosystem and give the park a larger claim to the water that Everglades shares with its thirsty neighbors.
The diverse life of Everglades National Park, from algae to alligators, depends upon a rhythm of abundance and drought. In the wet season, a river inches deep and miles wide flows, almost invisibly, to the Gulf of Mexico. In the dry season, the park rests, awaiting the water’s return. The plants and animals are a part of this rhythm. When humans change it, they put Ever- glades life at risk.
How to Get There
South from Miami, take us 1— Florida’s Turnpike to Florida City, then go west on Fla. 9336 (Palm Dr.) to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, about 50 miles from Miami. West from Miami, take us 41 (the Tamiami Trail) to Shark Valley Visitor Center. From Naples, head east on us 41 to Fla. 29, then south to Everglades City. Airports: Miami and Naples.
When to Go
Everglades has two seasons: dry (mid-December through mid-April) and wet (the rest of the year). The park schedules most of its activities in the dry season; hot, humid weather and clouds of mosquitoes make park visitors quite uncomfortable during the wet season.
How to Visit
If you can stay only a day for a drive-in visit, get out of your car and learn about Everglades ecology by taking self-guided walks at road turnoffs on the drive from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to Flamingo. For a longer stay, pick either Flamingo or Everglades City as your base and time your travels to the schedules of con- cession boat tours. In wet or dry sea- son, only a boat or canoe gives you access to the backcountry. Because of mosquitoes, the dry season is best for canoeing. (Near park entrances you’ll see signs advertising airboat rides; airboats, which can disturb wildlife and tear up saw grass, are not licensed to operate in the park.)
Excerpted from National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 7th Edition by National Geographic. Copyright © 2012 by National Geographic. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.