Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Everglades National Park Trail Project -- An AHS Volunteer Vacation

Everglades National Park encompasses 1.5 million acres of wetlands in the far southeastern section of our country and is the USA's largest subtropical wilderness.  Its vital importance is demonstrated by its status as a World Heritage Site as well as an International Biosphere Reserve.  One-third of the park is Florida Bay which runs from one to six feet in depth, shallow enough for sunlight to reach bottom and for grasses to flourish, which in turn sustains a flourishing fish population, shark population, and manatee population.

Our project was based out of the campground in Flamingo, the park service's facility which is at the end of the park road, 38 miles from the entrance.  Besides the campground, you'll find a full marina with a store, a visitor center, and a restaurant.  We were supposed to maintain the Coastal Prairie Trail which starts at the campground and runs seven miles through the wilderness, but a rare plant was spotted in the park and all trail work was halted until plans are made and okayed on how to protect the plant.

So instead, we were tasked to help "open up" several vistas at ponds to make for better viewing by visitors and safer access for paddlers.  Below is Chris lopping encroaching branches...

...and in the photo below, our leaders, NPS workers Mike and Gito, cut the higher branches with a power saw on an extension arm.  We then collected all the cut-offs and created huge piles which later were picked up by the park employees and taken for eventual burning by the fire crew.

We also cleared trash from along the Guy Bradley, Bear Lake, Eco, and Coastal Prairie Trails, and as John shows here, we also took photos of various things that we found interesting.

Lunches were lunch meat or peanut butter sandwiches that we made at breakfast, carried with us, and then enjoyed at various scenic overlook areas, and once at the Flamingo  breezeway seen below. There were also plenty of snacks and fruit to eat.

A special treat was when NPS assistant volunteer coordinator Kirrin took us to Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center, Everglades National Park's Shark Valley area, and Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery on Tamiami Trail.  Clyde Butcher is often called the "Ansel Adams of Big Cypress/Everglades," and he is world-famous for his large-format, black and white nature photography.  Below is Chris admiring some of Clyde's photos.  Unfortunately, Clyde was out-of-town that day.  When he is present, he graciously greets and speaks with visitors and autographs copies of his books.

Most mornings and evenings we were treated to magnificent and vivid sunrises (seen below) and sunsets.   On the nice breezy days, we were mostly spared the ubiquitous and thirsty mosquitoes, but most of the time, clothing and DEET were our refuge.

A definite advantage of volunteering in a national park is the daily ranger talks available throughout the day.  We were able to attend three evening programs (traveling in the Everglades backcountry wilderness by canoe, birding, and The Wilderness Act of 1964) right at our campground amphitheater.

Several of us also took a free wilderness canoe trip led by Ranger Daniel, and we also were treated to a free Wilderness Boat Tour up Buttonwood Canal into Coot Lake, and then via Tarpon Creek over to Whitewater Bay.

Another aspect I appreciate of these volunteer projects is the opportunity to spot wildlife.  This week we enjoyed alligators, crocodiles, both black and turkey vultures, egrets and herons and pelicans, osprey, anhingas, cormorants, ibis, this red-cockaded woodpecker in the tree by our tents...

...and this venomous  pygmy rattlesnake asleep on the trail that we were clearing.  His prey, a salamander, was  alongside him.  He didn't appreciate being awakened, so he hissed at us, shook his tail, and slithered into the underbrush.

Also, a number of our group drove to Key West on our day off and explored the town.

Below are our leaders for this project:  (l to r) Kirrin, Suzanne (our AHS crew leader,) and Leslie, the acting Everglades volunteer coordinator.

And here is our entire stalwart crew:

Front row(l to r): Jim, Suzanne, Deb, Amanda, Kenda, and George
Back row:  Mike (NPS), John, Heidi, Chris, Gayle, and Chuck


More photos of our week an be found here (and can be downloaded)

Here's a brief video of our week's project, including our adventures 
around the Everglades.

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