North America’s Amazon
I had never seen a wild Florida panther and I never expected I would. But the day I visited the Fakahatchee Strand State Park, I saw one. A large, muscular, tawny-colored big cat crossing the terrain with a fresh catch in his mouth. You can be sure that was an Authentic Florida day.
Florida panthers are endangered and it’s estimated there are between 100-120 remaining in Florida. Primarily found in south Florida, panthers require large roaming areas of hardwood swamps, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks. The Fakahatchee Strand is just one of their habitats, feeding on raccoons, wild hogs and white-tailed deer.
Twenty miles long and five miles wide, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve Stand Park lies north of Everglades City on the western border of the Big Cypress National Preserve. If you are already planning a visit to the Everglades, consider a stop at “North America’s Amazon.”
Serving as a main drainage slough of the Big Cypress Swamp, the Fakahatchee’s unique ecosystem is fed by a slow moving shallow river covered by a rain-forest canopy – shielding the plants and animals from extreme Florida temperatures. The canopy creates a home for the largest North American variety of native orchids (44) and wild bromeliads (14). Bald cypress trees, royal palms, and red maples uniquely coexist within the Strand.
Depending on the time of year you visit, be on the look out for wood storks, bald eagles, black bears, deer, snakes, Everglade minks, and diamondback terrapins (turtles).
As the fresh water of the Fakahatchee Strand travels southward to the salt water of the Everglades National Park, it creates one of the most productive estuaries in the world with pink shrimp, snook, snapper, manatees, American crocodile, loggerheads and thriving bird rockeries.
Fakahatchee Strand Safari
The day I visited, I was fortunate to participate on a guided swamp tour with volunteer naturalists. Wearing old shoes and carrying walking sticks, we rode in a open buggy to the swamp entrance and entered in knee-deep water which was clear, clean and refreshingly cool. The volunteer guides were very helpful identifying the wide array of plant and wildlife during the walk. Bromeliads and native ferns were everywhere. Butterflies, deer and barred owls were spotted. Alligators were nearby but never a threat to our group.
My new found awareness was understanding the fragile nature of the Strand and its surrounding ecosystem –and bottom line, it’s all about water. Clean water is vital for the Fakahatchee Strand, the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades National Park. All of nature. It’s so very basic. The circle of life.