People tend to think of South Florida, and The Everglades in particular, as a swamp. But it’s not a swamp. It’s a massive river system that begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.
Last week Darby, my mom and I got to see the river up close in the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. The river and what’s in itâ€”birds, alligators, turtles and fish, all easily visible despite the throngs of camera-toting international tourists. Darby kept a handwritten record in her notebook of the scores of endangered wood storks, the anhingas drying their wings, pied-billed grebes moving through the water, blue herons and egrets fishing, and roseate spoonbills on the wing.
We also learned that Everglades National Park, established in 1947, is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states, covering 1.5 million acres. And that the sup-tropical region is home to six distinct habitats: hammock, mangrove, pineland, sawgrass, slough, and marine.
The Everglades is a great place to reconnect with nature, but the ecosystem is also the sole source of drinking water for more than six million people in South Florida. Hence, the idea that The Everglades needs protective care, now more than ever, is without question.
Contact Friends of the Everglades, the environmental group founded by writer and Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969. Or reach out to Everglades Foundation, another group doing important work in the area.