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Saturday, April 03, 2010

ENJOY FLORIDA'S EVERGLADES AT LOXAHATCHEE

Good day in Florida at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge at the northernmost tip of Florida's Everglades. It's a place to learn about the Everglades and to get an idea of how we are trying to save what is left. It is also a place to get a peek at the variety of species that grow, live, and pass through this environment—unique not only in our country but also in the world.

Rob and I begin, as always, looking for background in the visitor center, a small place packed with information about what we might see as we walk the trails. The refuge is 143,874 acres or 221 square miles, so there is a lot to learn. We see a film describing the Everglade's special qualities and detailing the history of Florida's agricultural and residential development that, without intervention, would have totally destroyed this ecological gem.

We also take a virtual airboat ride through the Everglades, viewing some of the animals and birds that live here as well as some of the astonishing features such as tree islands made of peat that float to the surface and give a place for seeds to sprout into grasses or trees.

Out in the open air, we walk the mile path through the Cypress Swamp, dazzled by the tall, tall cypress trees, the hanging moss, the cypress “knees,” the different lichens on the trees, and the other features described on signs as we follow the boardwalk.
Loxahatchee, Florida
We hear the lovely voices of many birds, but they are incredibly well camouflaged, and they are not likely to display themselves for the folks. The boardwalk is inches above what appear to be still, clear waters. The flow of water through the Everglades is virtually imperceptible. Visitors walk very slowly and very quietly in the Cypress swamp. The appearance is chapel-like, but the reality is that we all hope to see some of the animals that make this ecosystem their home. Regardless, the atmosphere is lovely.

After this walk we drive to the levees and the canals that lead into a different section of the Everglades. We're at the sawgrass edges, a sedge border of sharp grasses named for their characteristics. In the more open spaces are lilies, and from the overlooks we can see fish, turtles, different water fowl, dragon flies, and many, many things I can't begin to identify. I, of course, am looking for alligators, but I am not rewarded. I feel as if I am back in Alaska futilely looking for moose! The warning signs for alligators are clear. If they associate humans with food, they will come over, and if they don't get fed, they will become consistently aggressive, and they will have to be killed. 'Nuff said.

This section of the Refuge is obviously highly managed and does not look at all as I imagined. However, there is a five mile canoe trail through the Everglades, and there are rentals at the entrance. There are also areas for fishing, and in the parking lot are quite a few empty boat trailers. The fishermen, for the most part, are somewhere deeper and beyond our vision. I'd like to do that.
Loxahatchee, FL

Major sections of the Refuge are not open to the public. This majestic refuge is an indispensable buffer against the development surrounding it. Careful and diligent stewardship of this area is definitely in our national interest. We should be aware of it and its value today and to future generations. We should continue to make sure the government funds and supports it.

We are also planning to enter the Everglades at another point, the National Park site, and we expect that visit to be even more of an experience—just as we’ve found at other National Parks.
If anyone has trouble walking, the trail visitor center, the trail through the Cypress Swamp and the lookouts and trails along the levees are all handicap accessible. No one should miss this.

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