Coe Visitor Center is must-stop site
FLORIDA CITY, Fla.— Heading to a national park can be a great time for people of all ages. There is so much to do in and around the park, but how can you get the inside scoop to make your visit great?
One of the easiest ways to make the most out of your visit is to utilize the visitor centers scattered around the parks.
Everglades National Park has four visitor centers, Flamingo, Shark Valley, Gulf Coast and Ernest Coe Visitor Center which is also the park headquarters.
|Click on the video at the left to view an audio slide show about the Royal Palm walking trails of Everglades National Park photographed and prepared by writer Nancy Oben.|
Heading south down State Road 9336 passing the farmland, alligator farms and fruit stands, the Ernest Coe Visitor Center is a welcome sight for visitors, enticing them to venture forward to explore the east side of the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
“When I first came to the park and bypassed the visitor center,” said Everglades Interpretive Ranger Rick Rivero. “I didn’t have any idea what was going on [in the park] but when I came back, I figured out.”
The Coe Visitor Center is right at the mouth of the park’s south entrance and can be easily overlooked by visitors wanting to get in the entrance gate a little further down the road make the center your first stop. The rangers at the visitor center will be able to answer any questions you might have and help with planning your visit.
|At right, one of the many interactive wildlife displays in the Coe Visitor Center (Photos by Nancy Oben). Next, a board listing daily activities for visitors at the center. Last, a ranger interprets a part of the park for visitors.|
The visitor center also houses many educational exhibits, including some documenting the local wildlife. There is even an interactive element in the exhibit, where you can hear how a baby alligator calls his mom, or look through a telescope pretending to watch for native birds.
“I have visited a lot of national parks and this one will definitely be in the top five,” said Ohio resident Jodi Harrington. “I like the videos and interactive exhibits.”
Once you take a good look at the wildlife exhibits, be sure to visit the presentation area. Every month the presentation area is filled with artwork from artists, which change monthly. The exhibits span all mediums and look at the Everglades through an artist’s point of view.
The visitor center is also a great resource to plan your day’s visit. In the center, by the ranger desk, there are three interactive stations that help you plan your trip at the park. On the touch screens you can select the walking trials you would like to explore and the screen shows a picture which helps you know what you’re getting into.
The touch screens aren’t as popular as one would think however. There was no line for any touch screen.
According to Visitor Center Volunteer Suzanne Roberts most visitors want to hear interpretations from an actual person, as opposed reading or viewing the content on the screen.
The rangers and park volunteers can be a valuable asset for park visitors. They not only hand you a map, like the front entrance does, but the rangers can also help you find the best trials for the season.
For example, for this time of year according to Rivero the best trails for nature watching are on the south side of SR 9336, the Royal Palm area especially, because of the water trickling down from the slough.
The rangers in addition to telling visitors about the best trails also lead guided walking trials. When you first get to the visitor center be sure to look at the activity sign outside by the main entrance. On the sign will be listed all the free things a visitor can experience throughout the park including events for children. There can also be a guided walking trail tour for people of all ages.
On this day in the park there was a small tour of Pa-hay-okee Overlook, which is an elevated boardwalk tour that looks over the expanse of the freshwater slough. On the trail, the park ranger went into detail about the decimation of the Everglades and what is being done to bring the lands back to a full and vibrant life.
Everglades National Park is a gorgeous area to visit and by utilizing the Coe Visitor center, as well as the others deeper in the park, your national park experience can be a fun, informative, and fulfilling visit.
If You Go
Ernest Coe Visitor Center
40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, Fla. 33034-6733, 305-242-7700.
Open 365 Days a year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Directions to the Coe Visitor Center: Visitors coming from the Miami area and further north should take the Florida Turnpike (State Route 821) south until it ends merging with U.S. 1 at Florida City. Turn right at the first traffic light onto Palm Drive (State Road 9336 or SW 344th Street) and follow the signs to the park
Parking and admission to the Coe Visitor Center is free, and there are also restrooms available for the public.
In order to get into the park there are some recreation fees. The price is $10 for a car parking pass and the pass is valid for seven consecutive days. It is only $5 if you go into the park on foot or by bicycle and that pass is also good for seven consecutive days. If you plan on coming to the park more than just one time, there is an annual pass option priced at only $25.