8 Things I Learned At Big Cypress National Preserve

8 Things I Learned At Big Cypress National Preserve

8 Things I Learned At Big Cypress National Preserve

📅10 July 2020, 17:15

#1 HOW BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE CAME TO BE

Big Cypress was originally marked for inclusion in Everglades National Park, which was created in 1947, but the landowners protested and it remained in private hands. However, in the 1960s Miami started building an international airport on the eastern side of today’s park, and the residents soon realized it wouldn’t be long before the metropolis of Miami connected all the way across the state with Tampa. This sent them crawling back to the federal government begging for protection, and in 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve was established. A long runway is all that was ever constructed of the proposed airport.

#2 ECOLOGY OF BIG CYPRESS SWAMP

The fundamental difference between Big Cypress and the Everglades is that Big Cypress is mainly a cypress swamp while the Everglades is a prairie that is submerged by a slow moving and very shallow sheet of water created by the yearly overflow of Lake Okeechobee. The water in the Big Cypress swamp is rainwater. Different elevations within Big Cypress result in different habitats. The lowest areas are the Cypress swamps and prairies that are underwater during the wet season (May-September). At the higher elevations, often only a few feet higher than the swamps, are pine and hardwood forests. To the south nearest the Everglades are estuaries.

#3 THE NATION’S FIRST NATIONAL PRESERVE

Big Cypress National Preserve has the co-distinction of being the nation’s first “National Preserve,” having been authorized by Congress on the same day as Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. A Preserve is a unique park designation in that while development of the area is stifled, traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, backcountry camping, and off-road travel is allowed. Even oil and gas exploration and extraction on the land is allowed. Furthermore, those who own property within a national preserve when the park is created are allowed to keep it, which is why you may stumble upon “No Trespassing” signs while wandering through what appears to be the middle of nowhere.

#4 THE BEST TIMES TO VISIT BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE

There are two seasons at Big Cypress National Preserve, the wet season (May-October) and the dry season (November-April). Roughly 70% of the tourist traffic (870,000 in 2014) comes during the dry season, with January, February, and March being the busiest months. The best time to come in order to beat the crowds is November or December before all the retired people start flocking to Florida for the winter.

Dry season at Big Cypress National Preserve

Dry season at Big Cypress National Preserve

#5 RAINFALL

During the wet season (May-October), 90% of Big Cypress National Preserve is underwater. It rains four to nine inches a month, with the wettest month being September (only Chicago has a September as wet as south Florida, if you can believe that). Overall, the park gets about 50 inches of rain a year, nearly all during the summer and fall. How anyone can stand the oppressive heat, constant rain, and the swarming mosquitoes is beyond me, but about 30% of the tourists come during this time. That’s roughly 350,000 people—surely miserable people, most of who I doubt stray too far from the car or the air conditioned Visitor Centers.

#6 VIEWING WILDLIFE

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, despite much of it being a swamp, the best time to view wildlife at Big Cypress National Preserve is during the dry season. The reason for this is because there aren’t many water sources during this time, and the animals love to congregate in the ones that do exist. Luckily for tourists, many of these water holes are located at easily accessible areas of the park, including right along Highway 41, the Tamiami Trail. When the road was built, a ditch was dug on either side of the planned road and the dirt was piled in the center to create an elevated road bed. Those ditches stay filled with water year-round, so you’ll find alligators and all sorts of birds along the road. In the wet season the water is everywhere and the animals can spread out all over the park. The last place they want to be is along the road and the subjects of nosy tourists.

Alligator in the roadside canal at the Oasis Visitor Center

Alligator in the roadside canal at the Oasis Visitor Center

#7 PANTHERS AT BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE

Big Cypress National Preserves is home approximately 150 panthers, as well as bears, wild boars, and rattlesnakes. Panthers like to live in the palmetto bush thickets that grow in the dryer ares of the park because the palm fronds make a huge racket whenever anything brushes up against them, which warns them that either danger or a meal is approaching. However, no panther attacks have ever occurred in Big Cypress, though panthers have attacked people in other parts of the country. The park covers over 700,000 acres, so you probably have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than seeing one.

Bones of a possible panther meal

Bones of a possible panther meal

# BROMELIADS

Depending on the season at Big Cypress National Park, you may also see flowers, including those of the bromeliad family. These are airplants that grow on other plants but are not parasitic. There are sixteen species of bromeliads in the park, with the largest being the Cardinal bromeliad.

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

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