Everglades Series: Five surprising things about Everglades NP

This is the third, and final, post in my Everglades National Park series. The first post was about Shark Valley and the second post was on the Anhinga Trail.

I always knew that the Everglades was huge, but never really had a full understanding of what it ‘was’ or how unique it was.  So here are some surprises I uncovered and learned from park authorities, while visiting this World Heritage Site.

1 – The Everglades is dry for part of the year

Dry Everglades - River of Grass

Dry Everglades - River of Grass

Most people have visions of a swampy, wet mosquito-filled landscape when they think of the Everglades. While the Everglades is not a swamp, that wet, mosquito-laced vision is true

for part of the year. The Everglades are actually a cracked earth, dry grassland for a few months of the year. Visiting  from about December to April gives you the best chance to experience the Everglades in a drier state. The benefits of this are that the Alligators congregate in smaller water holes and can be seen easier, plus there will be NO mosquitoes!

2 – Borrow Pits

Virtually everything in Everglades National Park is nautral. They don’t interfere with the course of nature. One of the biggest threats to the Everglades ecosystem is introduced species. Not just animals such as burmese pythons, but plants as well. Introduced plant species choke out the natural vegetation and are a constant battle for park officials. Which brings me to borrow pits.

When building the roadways and paved paths in the park, officials were weary of bringing materials from outside of the park because of the likely introduction of seeds and spores from foreign plants. To avoid that risk, they excavated a number of deep pits from within the park and used the rocks and materials from these ‘borrow pits’ to create the pathways. This is most evident at Shark Valley. Here, the borrow pits are about 20 feet deep and are the only feature of the area that does not dry up in the dry season. These few sources of year-round water are a haven for wildlife.

Alligator Closeup

Smiling Alligator Closeup

3 – Only place in the world to see Alligators and American Crocodiles

The endangered american crocodile can be found here in small numbers. It prefers areas with sandy beaches for laying eggs, so the over development of coastal areas in south Florida have caused it’s numbers to steadily decline. If you’re really lucky you may catch a glimpse of a crocodile while venturing into the Everglades by boat, kayak or canoe. The crocodiles are salt-water animals so they stick along the coast, whereas the alligators are freshwater animals and are more common inland.

4 – Oil is here

The Shark Valley area of the Everglades was originally land surveyed for drilling oil by the Humble Oil Company. Back in 1946 they did find oil here, but thankfully the quality of the oil and technological capabilities at the time didn’t make extraction a viable option. Giving up on the rough landscape and low quality oil, Humble Oil Company (now called Exxon) gave the land to the government, and this area became part of Everglades National Park.

Who knows what could have happened here if the oil was found today?

5 – The Everglades is a River

Huh? What? At more than 1.5 million acres in size, this is a huge river – 50 miles wide!

It may not look like it, but the Everglades is in constant motion. Water from further north in Florida at Lake Okeechobee trickles south at a very gradual rate as it goes through the Everglades. Nicknamed a ‘river of grass’ Everglades National Park only represents about 25% of what the entire Everglades once was. Water diversion and urban development have altered the natural course of flow to the Everglades, destroying parts of it in recent decades. Thankfully construction efforts are underway along parts of the Tamiani Highway and other areas of south Florida to ensure water flow to the park, and it’s plants and animals, will continue in the future.

Do you have any other interesting Everglades facts? Were you surprised that there are virtually no mosquitoes here for parts of the year? Share your Everglades tips by posting a comment below.

About Red Hunt

A former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel.