Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kayaking the Edge of the Everglades: A Sierra Club Outing

Deep in the southeastern part of Florida, nearly 2.5 million acres of land are dedicated to conservation in the form of these entities:  the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park,  Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Picayune Strand State Forest, Collier-Seminole State Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  These preserves all converge, offering visitors an immense and aquatic and land preserve that is home to a variety of wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, alligators, panthers, and countless wading birds to name a few. They include a chain of mangrove islands off the coast of southwest Florida and a refuge that is of one of the largest expanses of mangrove estuary in North America.

Our accommodations for the week were at the comfortable Ivey House in Everglades City, Florida, conveniently located amidst all of these priceless outdoor national treasures.  Our first of four paddles was from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park, crossing the bay and exploring around and on Sandfly Island...

Another paddle was down the twisting mangrove-lined Blackwater River seen below, beginning at Collier-Seminole State Park. This park also displays one of the three ingenious machines specially designed and constructed to build the Tamiami Trail (now US Highway 41) back in the 1920s.

The final paddle was down East River where our paddling skills were challenged by the narrow, twisting tunnels of mangrove, often barely wider than the kayaks, but a truly beautiful place to boat. Herons, egrets, jumping mullet fish, and even a swimming alligator all enthralled us as we plied the waters.

Another highlight of the program was an off-trail slog through the swamp of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, which entailed 90 minutes of hiking in water up to waist deep, in search of elusive orchids and other plants and whatever else caught our attention in this unique eco-system.

 Smallwood's Store and museum in nearby Chockoloskee made for an interesting side trip one morning.  This was the site of the 1920s vigilante justice by local residents, turned into an historical novel, Killing of Mister Watson, in 1991 by Peter Matthiessen.  Visits to two other nearby wildlife viewing areas provided additional opportunities to view birds.

Here are our intrepid explorers in front of our trailer full of kayaks...

(L to R) Front row:  Marlyn, Leon, Dave B., Jan, Joe (assistant leader), Gail, and Deborah
Back row:  Jack, Dave W., Karen, Patrick (leader), Cathy, and Nancy

Here's a brief video summarizing our week's adventures...

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