The Everglades

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The Everglades

Written by Julie Greiner

Established in 1947, the Park encompasses 1.4 million acres, or most of Florida's southern tip - larger in size than the state of Delaware. Nearly 300 varieties of birds, 600 kinds of fish and countless mammals call it home. There are 45 indigenous species of plants found nowhere else. Geologists and geographers say there is nothing quite like the Everglades anywhere else on earth. This is a must see along with the pyramids of Egypt, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park represents only a small part of the slow-flowing river that Indians called Pa-hay-okee "the grassy waters". The River of Grass starts at the Kissimmee Valley which feeds the 700-square mile Lake Okeechobee, which in turn supplies the Everglades. The Glades flow for 200 miles, up to 70 miles in width, averaging only 6 inches in depth. It is on a gradual incline in Florida's surface and drops only 15 feet over hundreds of miles. The water flows only about a half-mile per day.

River-of-Grass

The first of the Spanish explorers to roam the Everglades appears to have been Escalante de Fonteaneda. He washed up in the Keys after a shipwreck and lived among the Indians for 17 years before he returned to Spain. Then in the 1880s Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward involved the government in efforts to drain what was simply considered useless swamp land. The wonder of the wildlife and the consequences to come had not been fully realized at that point.

Whether you approach the Everglades by car, boat or canoe, you are looking at more than stagnating ponds of water, slime, brush and mosquitoes. It is a tapestry that is woven so fine - every thread depends upon another for existence. If the water levels continually stay low, everything's going to die. If you don't have the naturally fluctuating water levels, you won't have algae matter that little critters feed on. If the little critters die and the bigger critters that depend on them for survival have nothing to eat, the food chain will collapse. Once a four-million-acre wetland wilderness system, the Everglades is now reduced to half its former size. Today, the famed "river of grass" is strangled by more than 1,400 miles of levees and canals, polluted by agricultural runoff from 700,000 acres of sugarcane and other farms, and squeezed by South Florida's expanding metropolitan areas. Repairing the damage to the eastern Everglades caused by decades of human tinkering will cost $8 billion or more and take 20 years to complete.

Everglades Eco-Tours

The Everglades Day Safari offers a nature walk, airboat ride through the "River of Grass", a southern lunch and nature drive. For information call 800-472-3069. -- The Billie Swamp Safari on the The Big Cypress Seminole Reservation offers airboat rides and a tour of the reservation. James Billie was the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. For information call 800-949-6101. -- Everglades Holiday Park features airboat tours, alligator shows, nature drives, fishing, boating rentals and camping. For information call 954-434-8111.

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