Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park preserves the southern portion of the Everglades (all south of Tamiami Trail), but represents only 20 % of the original wetland area. The Park covers 2,357 mi² (6,105 km²) and is a World Heritage Site. The only highway access to the main part is State Road 9336 and its extension in the park, running 38 miles (61 km) from Florida City to the coast at Flamingo. Excluding the main visitor center and some smaller park facilities, there is no development in the park; this 1,296,500 acre (5,246 km²) area has been designated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness.
The area was authorized as a national park on May 30, 1934, but it was not fully established until December 6, 1947. The park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve on October 26, 1976. On November 10, 1978, most of the park was declared a wilderness area. Wilderness designations covered 1,296,505 acres (5247 km²) in 2003 — about 86 % of the park. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on October 24, 1979 and as a Wetland of International Importance on June 4, 1987. However, in 1993 it was placed on the List of World Heritage Sites in danger.
There are a number of car parks and trails within the Park, of which the most famous is the Anhinga Trail. This trail allows very close approach to birds such as herons and anhinga. The latter birds often perch on the rails of the boardwalk. The park has mosquitos year-round, and they can be a major problem in the summer, even with mosquito repellant.
In October 2005, Hurricane Wilma came across the tip of Florida and had devastating effects on the park. Heavy damage was sustained at the Flamingo area of the park. The visitor center, lodge, restaurant, and marina store were shut down, with the area closed off to all visitors not escorted by a park ranger. As of March 14, 2006 the Marina Store, Visitor Center, and boat ramps are now open. The Lodge, Flamingo Restaurant, and Buttonwood Cafe still remain closed. Updates can be found on the Everglades National Park website.
Everglades National Park is surrounded by the urban and agricultural areas of Miami, Homestead, and Florida City to its east, the Florida Straits and Florida Keys to its south, the Gulf of Mexico to its west and Big Cypress National Preserve to its north. Big Cypress is similar to the northern portion of the Everglades and it is about half the size of the park itself. At the southwestern shore of the park is Ingraham Lake, the southernmost lake in the United States.
In the southeastern section of the park is the Earnest F. Coe Visitor Center, the park headquarters. It is located just to the west of Homestead and Florida City on state road 9336. Four miles to the west of the headquarters is the Royal Palm Visitor center. The general area of Royal Palm and the headquarters is nestled in a pineland area, as are the Hidden Lake Education and Daniel Beard Centers a few miles to the west. The large Taylor Slough runs from Royal Palm to Florida Bay. To the west of Royal Palm is also Long Pine Key. Long Pine Key (which is not actually an island) is located about four miles from Royal Palm on 9336 and is a prominent camping area in the forest like pineland area. Another four miles to the west on 9336 is the Pahayokee Overlook, which is a raised observation platform that overlooks the park to the north.
Continuing south, 9336 runs through a large cypress swamp. Just on the outside edge of this swamp is Mahogany Hammock, a trail located twenty miles from the headquarters, deep in the park. Even farther south, one comes into the coastal mangrove swamps. Hidden in the thousands of mangrove trees are hundreds of small lakes bay and rivers that empty into the Florida Straits. The swampy estuaries in this area are the only place in the U.S., where crocodiles can be found, although they are very rare. Also in these areas are manatees, which are often spotted at the surface on cool autumn mornings. At the very end of 9336 is the Flamingo Visitor Center, the farthest south visitor center in the park. It is located on the arid coastal prairie and lies just to the north of Florida Bay. Trails leading from Flamingo go west onto Cape Sable a cape in the extreme southwestern part of Florida. Also leading from Flamingo is the 99 mile Wilderness Waterway, a canoe trip from Flamingo in the south to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in the north. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center serves as a visitor center for both the northwestern part of the everglades and the neighboring Big Cypress National Preserve.
In the northern section of the park, the most prominent area is the Shark Valley Visitor Center. A tram road which starts and ends at this center extends about seven miles from the northeastern border of the park into the Shark River Slough, an extensive freshwater slough that flows from Lake Okeechobee (north of the park) to the southwestern coast of Florida. The Shark River Slough is dotted with hundreds of small, jungle-like hardwood hammocks, which are home to many of the Everglades mammals and raptors.
The general Shark Valley area is perhaps what most visitors think of when they think of the everglades, as it is surrounded by a seemingly eternity of sawgrass in all directions. Alligators and wading birds often come within feet of visitors, and occasionally, a lazy alligator will block the road. At the point in the Shark Valley tram road where it turns back north there is the Shark Valley Observation Tower, a sixty five foot tower that overlooks the sawgrass prairie to the south.
The soil of the islands is very fertile and is subject to frequent inundation, but gradually the water area is being replaced by land. The vegetation is luxuriant, the live oak, wild lemon, wild orange, cucumber, pawpaw, custard-apple and wild rubber trees being among the indigenous species; there are, besides, many varieties of wild flowers, the orchids being especially noteworthy. There are two seasons, wet and dry, but the climate is equable.
Specialties of the park include the Short-tailed Hawk and Smooth-billed Ani, and the Caribbean Flamingo at its only regular North American mainland site, usually near the town of Flamingo. Other wading birds such as herons, egrets, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and ibises are abundant. Limpkins can also be found in the Everglades.
The raptors include the rare Snail Kite and the very common Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey.
From Flamingo, the water and mud flats of Florida Bay allow views of pelicans, shorebirds, terns and skimmers.
The waterways are inhabited by otters, manatees, alligators and crocodiles. The park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist naturally. Also deer and the severely endangered Florida panther are found.