Volume I - No. 2
DIVERSITY IN THE EVERGLADES
By Daniel B. Beard,
After eight years of investigations, counter investigations, and super investigations, the boundaries of the proposed Everglades National Park in Southern Florida remain substantially the same as they were originally set up. It may appear odd that no radical boundary changes have been made in such flat country-land that is only a few feet above sea level, possibly eight or ten feet at its dizziest height. Maybe, if I can describe the terrain along the three hundred or so miles of boundaries it will be possible to get an inkling of the diversified nature of the ground, level as it is in the proposed park
The place where the boundary cuts across the Tamiami Trail about 30 miles west of Miami would make a good starting point. This is State property. The country is a flat expanse of sawgrass prairie, dotted. by occasional hammocks which give the appearance of islands. Under natural conditions, the grasses and sedges of the prairie grow almost shoulder-high, and the ground is soggy marl covered by a skim of organic soil. The little hammocks have more fertile soil than the surrounding prairies and support a luxuriant growth of cocoplum, butttonwood and other trees, shrubs, and airplants Seminole Indians build their thatched villages on 'glade's hammocks and sometimes plant pumpkins bananas, sugar cane and other essential crops. There the women can be high, by a foot or so, and reasonably dry while the men hunt alligators, deer, and otters or go spearing fish in the winding waterways from their dugout canoes
About 25 miles south of the starting point the park boundary skirts Royal Palm State Park to include that area. Thanks to a wet slough to the east of Paradise Key in the State Park the vegetation growing on the Key has been relatively free from the ravages of fire On the pitted oolitic limestone of Paradise Key, a tropical jungle has developed with the tousled heads of royal palms protruding high above the forest canopy. Here are found plants that could keep the most ambitious botanis busy for years-gumbo limbo, blolly, wild coffee. bustic, stopper mastic poisonwood, paradise tree, moon vine, strangler fig quantities of rare epiphitic orchids, and many others. Nearby are the piney woods of the Everglades Keys.
As we move southward, the grassy prairies thin out and little, round hammocks become more numerous in a land of flat, gray marl. Small red mangrove trees with arching roots indicate the proximity of salt water. We are approaching an almost unexplored wilderness of tidal lakes and estuaries where the American Crocodile is making its last stand. The park boundary makes an abrupt swing to the east near the southern coast of the mainland, crosses over a shallow bay to the northern end of Key Largo and, strangely enough, goes right out into the ocean for a few miles. The reason for this can be quickly ascertained by peering into the water through a glass-bottomed bucket. There is a shelf extending out from Key Largo for several miles which is the remnant of an old, submerged coral reef. At the outer edge of the shelf, a new, barrier coral reef is forming. Through the bucket, one can see waving gorgonias, lumpy coral heads, sponges, and the tropical fishes of the Atlantic marine gardens.
The boundary cuts back across Key Largo again after following the edge of the coral reef for a few miles, thus including a section of that key. That will bring into the Everglades Park an example of West Indian jungle vegetation growing on the "core" of Key Largo and flanked on both sides by impenetrable mangrove swamps.
From Key Largo, the boundary follows southward along the inner edge of the Upper Florida Keys as far as the end of Lower Matecumbe. Then it swings off to the northwest across the water to a point three miles from Cape Sable, the southernmost spot on the United States mainland. This means that Florida Bay is included in the park. The Bay appears on the map to be just an expanse of water dotted with little islands. It is a vast expanse of milky, blue water and mangrove keys, but the water is only a few feet deep. Smart boatmen carry shovels with them and get out to dig a channel every so often. The marl from the mainland is being continually carried into Florida Bay and precipitated on the bottom and in shoal areas, mangroves start to form small keys. By including this shallow body of water, the Service will obtain the entire eastern section of the rare Great White Herons' range, the only good rookery of Roseatte Spoonbills in Florida, nesting areas for White Ibises, Florida Cormorants, and other birts. It also is the home of the Manatee or sea cow and Crocodile, and a bully spot to catch yellowtail, redfish and snook.
Wandering White Pelicans spend their winter vacations at Cape Sable, the "cape of sand", backed by hurricane-swept mangrove swamps and tidal flats. Thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl, many Bald Eagles, White Ibises, Wood Ibises, Egrets and Herons haunt the areas as well as raccoons and elusive Florida Cougars. Three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico from Cape Sable, the boundary continues in a northwesterly direction. It passes the labyrinth at the mouth of the Shark River where recently subsided land has left a maze of islands through which only the most experienced navigator can pilot. Northward, the boundary line goes by great mangrove and buttonwood forests rising like a cliff from the water's edge. Major rivers draining the Everglades empty into the Gulf along the western coast the Harney, Lostman, Broad, Chattam, and others. At the headwaters of the rivers are mysterious lakes and inlets where great rookeries of wading birds are located.
Little mangrove keys begin to appear about 40 miles north of Cape Sable. They represent the southern fringe of that unique country known as the Ten Thousand Islands, For about 15 miles more, the park boundary follows along three miles from shore. It then dips to the northeast through the mangrove keys joining the mainland at the mouth of the Turner River. Some large shell mounds left by aboriginal inhabitants are included in the park before the boundary swings to a point a few miles north of the Tamiami Trail. The block of land both north and south of the Trail is part of the Big Cypress region. This is favorite hunting territory where Florida Cougar, the great Everglades Black Bear, Bobcat, Deer, Turkey, Swallow-tailed Kite, and other rare birds and mammals are found.
As the park boundary follows eastward the Tamiami Trail, the above cypress gives way slowly to open prairies of the Everglades. The line then angles south through sawgrass prairies to the point of beginning.
Why include the region north of the Tamiami Trail? One of the many reasons is water. With water as the basis for all life in the proposed park, any deflection of flow north of the Trail would cause profound ecological changes throughout much of the park area. A drainage canal along the Tamiami Trail does this to some extent at present, but it may be corrected. With water at a premium since drainage operations were under taken at Lake Okeechobee, control of the cypress and Everglades country north of the Trail is essential.
So, by following the boundaries of the proposed Everglades National Park, we find that a country as flat as the proverbial pancake still can have a surprising variation in the landscape. It remains a wilderness in habited by Seminoles, a few wandering trappers, some fishermen, and that is about all. The nature of the land prohibits human intrusion except by boat or the few existing roads. If fire is kept out, hunting is stopped, and water levels are maintained, the Everglades National Park is capable of becoming the most amazing wildlife sanctuary in the United States. Seed stock for almost every native species of bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, and plant still is left and, with the fertility of the tropics, can soon start the return to primitive conditions.
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