US States/Florida/Everglades history

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In many ways, the history of the Everglades is the story of Southwest Florida. Always a remote and demanding area, only a handful of white settlers lived along the banks of the Allen River (now the Barron River) and inside what are now the city limits, until Barron G. Collier made Everglades the headquarters for his Tamiami Trail road-building company in 1923. The Calusa Indians had lived in the area even earlier, of course, and more than three centuries earlier had built a large shell mound on nearby Chokoloskee Island.

The families of John Weeks and William Smith Allen are believed to be the area's first permanent residents, settling along the Allen River just after the Civil War. They were farmers and had to eke out livings on the banks of the river, the only naturally high ground around. This was only 10% of the territory, which is now Everglades City; the rest of the high ground today is the result of Collier's dredging operations in the 1920s. The town's first transportation link to the outside world came when Collier built a railroad 14 miles from Deep Lake to the north, down to the Allen River, and eventually the town grew and became a shipping depot for produce.

Between 1921 and 1923, Collier acquired 90% of the land in southern Lee County, including what is now Collier County. Collier would then start to build the Tamiami Trail, linking Tampa with Miami, which crossed the state through the swamp. This road would become a lifeline for Everglades - but before Collier could build in the town, he had to create a high and dry base for it. From 1926 to 1929 a dredge pulled muck from the Allen River and piled it up to make a town; when the river's supply was diminished, the dredge moved to the east side of town and created Lake Placid. This dredging expanded usable land from less than 100 acres to 660 acres. It also made the town an island with the river on the west, a canal and lake on the east and noth and Chokoloskee Bay to the south.

With land to build on, the town grew - by 1929 there was a trolley, hospital and clinic, movie house, library, railroad depot, common garage for autos, two hotels and, of course, a jail. Although many construction jobs were lost when the Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, commercial fishing grew during the late 1920s and 1930s. By 1953, the town had grown large enough to take over its own municipal operations and bought the water, sewer, electric, street, fire and other public services from the Collier company. Soon after, the Collier companies moved thir headquarters to Naples, and the town became less of a construction-related community. Sponge fishing flourished in the 1940s, shrimping in the 1950s, and stone crabbing in the 1960s. Today, the Everglades includes areas of Carnestown, Chokoloskee, Copeland, Everglades City, Lee Cypress, Monroe Station, Ochopee, Plantation Island, Port of the Islands and Seaboard Village. Often considered a "walk back in time" life, the Everglades is more typical of earlier days of Florida's development than in the communities found on either coast. Many of those who live in the area have deliberately chosen to take a slower approach to life and live closer to nature, enjoying and preserving the resources of the area. Visitors will find much to do - from the annual Seafood Festival to daily backwater and deepwater boat tours and excursions. Restaurants for every taste can be found - but, of course, seafood is usually the natural choice. Accommodations are available for every budget and preference. In short, Everglades represents much of the "oldie Florida" without the capital "o" - small, friendly communities, good food, comfortable accommodations, and churches to welcome visitors to Sunday services. Everglades, The South Coast of Florida, where there's still time to be friendly.

Brief History of the Everglades[edit | edit source]

America’s Everglades once covered almost 11,000 square miles of south Florida. Just a century ago, water flowed down the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, then south through the Everglades marsh to the flats of Florida Bay – the ultimate destination of the pure sheet flow. Dubbed the River of Grass for the saw grass that flourished throughout the marsh, the Everglades is a mosaic of freshwater ponds, prairies and forested uplands that supports a rich plant and wildlife community. The river spans as much as 60 miles in width, yet is only six inches deep in some places.

Known throughout the world for its abundant bird life, the Everglades is home to several species of large wading birds such as the roseate spoonbill, the wood stork, the great blue heron and a variety of egrets. The mix of salt and freshwater makes it the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side. In 1905, former Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward began a concerted effort to drain the Everglades to make the land suitable for agriculture and development. Large tracts of swamp were transformed into productive farmland, and cities such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale began sprouting up along the coast. As the population grew, so did the need to provide flood control to the new residents of South Florida. In 1948, the U.S. Congress authorized the Central and South Florida Project , which created the most effective water management system in the world. Today, the project's extensive network of man-made canals, levees and water control structures channel 1.7 billion gallons of water daily from the Everglades out into the ocean.

The loss of water changed the natural characteristics of the marsh. As the water receded, so did the natural habitat of wading birds, fish and dozens of animals. Saltwater flowed farther into the marsh from the ocean, and pollution flowed in from neighboring farms and cities. Changes in water quality stifled the growth of native plants, allowed exotic plants to take root and fueled the growth of algae which worsened the loss of natural habitat. As a result of this cycle continuing for the last half of the 1900, the Everglades today is half the size it was a century ago. Despite the damage that was done more than 50 years ago, the Everglades is still considered a national treasure just as extraordinary as the Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes or the Redwood Forests. A remarkable coalition of highly diverse and bipartisan interests has joined forces to make the restoration possible.

To revive and protect this national treasure, Florida is undertaking the largest environmental ecosystem restoration in the world. It is Florida’s top priority to improve the quality of life for all south Floridians, provide adequate water supply for south Florida’s growing population and provide improved flood control, all while preserving America’s Everglades and Florida’s Liquid Heart – Lake Okeechobee - and protecting natural wildlife and plants for future generations.

Park History[edit | edit source]

It is apparent that the Everglades have been inhabited for over 10,000 years, perhaps even 20,000. By 4,000 years ago the area with its ample food supplies-fish, shellfish, plants, and land animals--supported a substantial population. Europeans first appeared on the scene in 1513 when Ponce de Leon explored portions of the Florida peninsula. On a later visit he was killed in the area by a Calusa arrow. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500's, two primary groups of Indians, the Calusas and the Tequestas--lived in the area. Population estimates range between about 5,000 and 20,000. The Tequestas were fishermen, while the Calusa ate shellfish, clams, and oysters. However, the Indian population was largely eliminated by the diseases introduced by the Spanish explorers, such as tuberculosis, influenza, and polio.

After the initial Spanish attempts at conquest, the south Florida area returned to isolation for 300 years. After 1700, Indians of the Creek Confederacy from Georgia and other areas north of Florida migrated into the areas vacated by the extermination of the previous inhabitants. These Indians came to be known as Seminoles ("free man" in an Indian language), but they were largely eliminated and eventually forcibly moved as a result of the Seminole Wars (1835-1842, 1855-1859) which followed the acquisition of Florida by the United States in 1821. Whites begin to settle the coastal areas of the present park in the 1880's and 1890's. Piioneers supported themselves with a combination of farming, fishing, hunting, and hunting of birds for their plumage.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

However, threats to the integrity of the Everglades ecosystem became a reality with the arrival of people. Many birds were hunted to the brink of extinction for their plumage. The sheet flow "river of grass" which forms the basis for the existence of the glades came under attack as Floridians began to divert the waters flowing south from Lake Okeechobee to control floods and provide water to the burgeoning population. In the early 1900's Governor Napolean Bonaparte Broward campaigned on promises to drain the wetlands. In 1909 the Everglades Drainage District completed the Miami Canal connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Miami area, and additional channeling projects were completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. A dam on the south rim of the lake itself was completed in 1930. Later, the Tamiami Trail road which runs east and west through the Everglades was completed, interrupting the flow of water to the south.

During this period the characteristics of the glades began to attract attention. In 1832 J. J. Audubon visited and observed and studied the amazing concentration of birds. The Audobon Society later spearheaded efforts to save the bird populations from the ravages of hunters. In 1901 this effort culminated in a law prohibiting hunting of many of the area's birds (except for game birds).This effort was highlighted in 1905 when one of the Audobon wardens, Guy Bradley, who was charged with prevention of bird poaching, was murdered by a hunters. Eventually, interest in preservation of parts of the glades began to develop. In 1916 the Paradise Key area was established as Royal Palm State Park, a result of effort by the Florida Federation of Women's clubs.

However, threats to the resources of the park continued to mount, as a result of oil drilling, lumbering, and other activities. These threats generated interest in preservation of the natural wonders. National Park Service Director Stephen Mather advocated a national park for the Everglades in 1923. In 1929, the Florida legislature created the Tropical Everglades National Park Association under the leadership of landscape architect Ernest Coe to investigate the possibility of establishment of a national park. Coe's tireless efforts resulted on May 20, 1934 in the passage of a bill authorizing creation of the park, and although the boundaries of the park were to enclose 2 million acres no land was to be actually acquired for 5 years. In fact, land acquisition was further delayed until after World War II when the park was finally dedicated on December 6, 1947 by President Truman in a ceremony at Everglades City. It was the first park to be founded to protect primarily biological resources.

Despite creation of the park, threats to the Everglades environment have continued. Water supplies and quality remain a problem, and in the 1960's an enormous airport on the eastern border of the park, planned to cover 39 square miles, was planned. This plan was opposed by environmental groups and finally abandoned. In 1962 water suppolies to the Everglades was seriously diminished when the water flowing under the Tamiami Trail was restricted through only 4 water control gates. Water was on occasion shut off completely; among other casualties of this action, half of the existing alligator population was lost.

In 1971 Congress mandated a minimum flow of water into the park. And, in 1974, the Big Cypress National Preserve was created. This area had been part of the original authorization in 1934 but had not actually been included in the park when it was officially created.In 1979, an additional 107,600 acres was added to the park.

However, the Everglades has often been called the most endangered national park. Water supplies and the natural flow and cycle are still problems. Diminished flows of water from the north have increased the intrusion of salt water into the southern section of the park near the coast. The water which does flow into the park is somewhat polluted by agricultural runoff. Very high levels of mercury have been detected in the park's fish. The park is under serious stress from three major sources--the increasing domination of non-native plants, water quantity, and water quality.

Everglades Landforms[edit | edit source]

To many people the name "Everglades" conjures up images of a deep, dark swamp. And while swamps exist in the Everglades, particularly in the Big Cypress National Preserve, most of the land area of the park is quite different from that. Very different types of land and vegetation can be found in the park, often dependent on how high the land lies and where differences of a few feet have substantial effects.

Sawgress Marsh The heart of the Everglades is the vast sawgrass marshes, the largest of its kind in the world. Prior to the engineering efforts of the human residents of Florida, these marshes were once part of a huge, shallow river 50 miles wide and 120 miles long running from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida Bay in the south. Noted naturalist and defender of the Everglades Marjorie Stoneman Douglas appropriately termed these areas the "River of Grass." This river was created from overflowing water from the lake running slowly--on the order of a foot or so a minute--across the slightly inclined floor of south Florida. From a geological perspective, this environment and the Everglades themselves are quite young, perhaps 5000 years.

There are two seasons in the Everglades--the dry season, from about November through April, and the wet season, from May until October when an average of 53 and even 100 inches of rain might fall. Approximately 60 inches of rain falls during the wet season and the limestone base of the sawgrass areas are covered by water. The sheet of water which flows through the Everglades results from overflow from Lake Okechobee in the north after the summer rains.

However, the "River of Grass" from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades no longer flows freely. Over the past 60 years it has been interrupted by 1400 miles of canals, levees, and spillways, designed to control flooding and provide water to the ever increasing population of south Florida. The current park embraces only about 1/10 of the original Everglades area. Surprisingly, to some, the sawgrass marshes are not soft, but have a porous but extremely hard limestone bottom. It is quite possible to walk across these prairies even during the wet season without sinking. The sawgrass plant itself is actually a sedge, one of the oldest green plants on earth. It's low requirements for nutrients makes it well adapted for the Everglades environment. The leaves of the sawgrass plant have serrated edges which can easily cut a person if he or she runs a hand along the plant in the wrong direction. During the wet season the roots of the plant are completely covered by water; in the dry season the marshes are occasionally devastated by fire. Periodic fire is actually helpful, as it eliminates dead, matted sawgrass which otherwise accumulates. The sawgrass marsh is the emblem of the Everglades, in some ways calling to mind the African savanna. But there is no real equivalent to the sawgrass marshes and the sheet flow anywhere in the world; the ecosystem is unique. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in her famous book Everglades: River of Grass, wrote in 1947 that "there are no other Everglades in the world."

Pine Forest The highest areas of the park, which lie several feet above the low areas, are covered by forests of slash pine and plants like the saw palmetto which grows in the mulch of fallen pine needles. These are called "pinelands" or "pine flatwoods." The term "slash pine" is derived from the old practice of slashing their bark to get sap to make turpentine. Other pines which are found in these areas include longleaf pine, southern Florida slash pine, and pond pine. The floor of these forests is rough, rugged, and rocky.

At one time much of the eastern border of the park was covered by these forests, as they ran in a band about 4-5 miles wide some 50 miles to the south from Ft. Lauderdale. The Miami and Ft. Lauderdale areas used to be part of these pinelands.The only remaining portion of this forest is that which exists in the park. The land in the Everglades is very flat (the highest point is only 8 feet!) and the wetlands are quite shallow, so elevations of even a few feet make a considerable difference in the character of the land and the vegetation which grows on it. Pinelands are located on the highest points which are rarely covered with water where there are pockets of fertile soil laying on the limestone base. Fires which periodically sweep park areas are necessary for the survival of the pine forests, clearing undergrowth and promoting growth. Without fire, pineland areas will become overgrown, rather than open, and eventually dominated by hardwood trees. The slash pine itself has a corky bark which is quite resistant to fire. Hurricanes, however, can be a different matter. Hurricane Andrew's powerful winds snapped the trunks of about 30% of the parks pines in 1992. The pine forests are rich with vegetation, supporting fully half the plant species in the park. Within the pine forests, based on the limestone floor, solution holes can be found. Alligators used to live in these pockets sin the limestone, but there isn't usually enough water anymore to support them.

Hardwood Hammocks Few trees grow within the sawgrass marshes themselves since their roots would be covered by water during a significant portion of the year. However, within the marsh are places where the limestone is just a couple of feet higher, high enough to permit hardwood trees like mahogany, gumbo limbo, cocoa palm, and other plants to grow. These areas, which may range from an acre or so to hundreds of acres, remain dry year round. The hammock creates ins own protective environment, often cooler than the surrounding glades. The leaves cast off by the hammocks trees mix with rainwater to form an acidic solution, dissolving limestone downstream from the hammock, surrounding the hammock with a moat which provides additional protection in the event of fire.

Because they are dry the hammocks served as places for the Indians of the glades to live. They also grew crops in the soil of the hammock; the word "hammock" may be derived from the Indian term for "garden place." The damp shade, however, also provides a wonderful environment for the mosquitoes which can often be found there in great numbers. One of the most well-known of the hammocks is Mahogany Hammock, below.

The interior of the hammock is dark and thick with vegetation, the floor spongy with rotting leaves. Mahogany Hammock also features a .3 mile boardwalk nature trail (left) which allows the visitor to experience the interior of a hammock. Mahogany Hammock happens to contain America's largest mahogany tree, a portion of which is seen below. Many of these trees have been logged for the superior quality and durability of their wood. So many trees have been destroyed by fire, hurricanes, and logging that they no longer reseed naturally, and therefore are likely eventually to disappear. This is considered a natural occurrence and thus will be allowed to happen.

Mangrove Swamp In areas near the coast where the salt water of the gulf and Florida Bay meets the fresh water traveling from 13:42, 4 February 2010 (UTC)13:42, 4 February 2010 (UTC)~~—–—the Lake Okechobee is realm of the mangrove trees. These trees prefer brackish water, and are responsible for creation of much new land because their roots and trunks trap organic material in the water. Mangrove swamps cover more than 500 square miles in the park. The photograph below shows Buttonwood Canal through the mangrove groves. This channel was built by the National Park Service and was somewhat controversial as it allow salt water from Florida Everglades.

The Everglades is a two million acre wetland ecosystem that reaches from central Florida, near Orlando, all the way south to Florida Bay. During the wet season, Lake Okeechobee overflows, releasing water into a very slow moving, shallow river dominated by sawgrass marsh--dubbed the "river of grass." The water flows southward, passing through diverse habitats, including cypress swamps, wet prairie and mangroves, until it reaches Everglades National Park and eventually Florida Bay.

Originally, the Greater Everglades Ecosystem had a large diversity of habitats connected by wetlands and water bodies. Since the 1800's, human actions have been altering the Everglades landscape. Water diversions and flood control projects cut water flows and connections between wetlands throughout the Everglades. Combined with agricultural and urban development, the size of the Everglades has decreased dramatically.

People and the Everglades[edit | edit source]

The Everglades are surrounded by human development, including the cities of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Its wetlands and wildlife draw large numbers of birders, anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

The Everglades also provide critical, and often undervalued, services to people, called ecosystem services. The waters of the Everglades ecosystem support agriculture and provide drinking water for south Florida. The wetlands improve water quality by filtering out pollutants and absorbing excess nutrients, replenish aquifers, and reduce flooding.

Wildlife in the Everglades[edit | edit source]

The Everglades is internationally known for its extraordinary wildlife--from Florida panthers, to crocodiles, manatees, and a huge host of birds such as roseate spoonbills, egrets, and wood storks.

Plants[edit | edit source]

The diversity of Everglades' habitats means there's also a great diversity of plants. There are wetland plants from sawgrass and bladderwort to cypress and mangrove trees. There are pine trees, hardwoods, and even beautiful orchids.

Birds[edit | edit source]

Over 350 bird species can be found in Everglades National Park alone. The Everglades is known for its many wading birds, such as white and glossy ibises, roseate spoonbills, egrets, herons and wood storks, but it also hosts huge numbers of smaller migratory birds. Some species, such as the snail kite, wood stork and Cape Sable seaside sparrow have become endangered species. Reptiles: Both alligators and socrocodiles live in the Everglades and are sometimes mistaken for each other. American alligators like deep, freshwater channels of water called sloughs and wet prairie, where they dig out ponds for nesting. The American crocodile lives in the coastal mangroves and Florida Bay. Everglades National Park has 27 different kinds of snakes alone.

Mammals[edit | edit source]

The Everglades' most endangered animal, a mammal, is the Florida panther, of which about 80 now survive. Other well-know Everglades mammals are water-dwellers--the West Indian manatee, which is also endangered, and the bottlenose dolphin.

Threats to the Everglades[edit | edit source]

Invasive Species[edit | edit source]

When an ecosystem is out of balance and native plants and animals are struggling, species from other parts of the world can take advantage of the changed conditions to establish themselves. Some introduce species become a small part of the landscape, while others thrive at the expense of native plants and wildlife. When an introduced species puts additional stresses on native wildlife and threatens habitats, it is called an invasive species. An invasive species is able to spread throughout new ecosystems, because it doesn't have the natural predators from its native land to keep it in check. Once they've become established, these invaders are hard to stop. The Everglades is being threatened by numerous plant and animal invaders. Invasive species in the Florida Everglades were introduced both on purpose and by accident.

Altering water flows and the natural pattern of wildfires allowed exotic plants, such as the Brazilian peppertree, Chinese privet, melaleuca and Old World climbing fern to invade. 1.5 million acres of the Everglades have been invaded by nonnative plants.