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The Everglades are degrading. Agriculture, the sprawl of urban development and human impact, including large swarms of tourists, are threatening the unique wetlands. Waterloss is an issue, the population of wading birds has dropped by 90%, development encroaches and non native plants have invaded. Steps have been taken to increase the water flow into the Everglades again and to keep the park as healthy as possible, but to say the least, the Everglades are already a very delicate ecosystem.
While airboats are prohibited in most of the Everglades National Park, they are still buzzing through sawgrass and bringing tourists to see the alligators and other wildlife outside of its boundaries in the surrounding Florida swamps. The companies claim to be completely eco-friendly, but I and many others believe, that they do leave a trail in the fragile ecosystem. After all, any company self-proclaiming itself as eco-friendly, that at the same time advertises “some serious action” and “wildlife shows” in and around national parks really rings my warning bells. I like the idea of airboats in the Everglades about as much as I like zoos, they can have a beneficial educational effect, but in the end, I’d rather they didn’t exist at all.
The Everglades, as any such National Park, seems to be better suited to be explored at a slower pace. And, of course, it is perfectly possible to explore the ‘Glades without the airboats – on foot, in kayaks or canoes. You may not be able to see as much as you would on a speed boat, but, do you really have to? I’d rather the environment be left intact, with certain areas not accessible at all, than rush around on an airboat and possibly contribute to the destruction of this park. Maybe, some things are just meant to be left alone so they will hopefully continue to exist for many more centuries.
There is still no better way of understanding why the Everglades deserve saving, than to visit. Of course there are many overnight hikes and canoe-trips possible, but here’s a few very worthy stops in the Everglades that you can easily do on a daytrip via the Homestead Entrance.
Walk the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm
The plant life of the Everglades is fascinating, but what most people come here for is the wildlife. Royal Palm is a must-do if you want to see lots of animals, close up and of course, without taking an airboat tour. The trail leads over boardwalks and paved paths along waterways and heavy vegetation. The area is teeming with wildlife and is inhabited by not only the impressive alligators, but you can also find a huge variety of birds, such as great blue herons, egrets, cormorants and wood storks. You might even spot a turtle here or there. It’s actually kind of ridiculous how many completely wild animals there are in one spot – at one location I saw over 20 gators just sunbathing together.
The Pinelands Trail
The Pinelands Trail is a – in my opinion – pretty underrated and short trail through a slash pine forest. This pine forest once extended all the way up the Atlantic coast, but is now virtually the last little pocket of this incredible habitat that remains.
The Mahogany Hammock Trail
The Hardwood Hammock is one of several distinct ecosystems within the Everglades National Park. While vast areas of the park are swamps, the hammocks are slightly elevated by just a few inches (!), which allows trees, for example mahogany, gumbo-limbo and maple trees, to grow there. The Mahogany Hammock Trail leads to just such an island surrounded by a vast sawgrass prairie, in fact, the largest mahogany tree in the United States can be found here.
The Pa-hay-okee Overlook
If you want to see exactly how massive the Everglades are, you have to get higher up. Down below, you can only see as far as the next plant, but standing on the Pa-hay-okee Overlook you can really start to comprehend the vastness of this sea of grass. There’s also a very nice boardwalk lined with magnolia trees, a bald cypress forest and their solution holes and an explanation of how the Shark River Slough, an 8 mile wide sheet of water, works as an ecosystem.
In my opinion, these four spots give you a great overlook over the Everglades and its many ecosystems. You won’t have to go as far down as Flamingo, apart for a couple interesting birds in ponds along the way, I didn’t find much there apart from a mediocre café and a restroom.