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Everglades can be overwhelming for visitors

FLORIDA CITY, Fla. — Just about anybody entering Everglades National Park will be immediately taken by its vast and open landscape. While it initially may underwhelm some as they might be expecting a forest or New Orleans-like swamp, this is a one-of-a-kind ecosystem of water and grass with trees and a handful of tree islands in the distance.

National parks are scenic and historically important areas of countryside protected by the federal government for the enjoyment of the general public and the preservation of wildlife. Everglades National Park is one of just 61 national parks in the United States. The 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve is located on the southwestern tip of Florida.

The Royal Palm Visitor Center offers staff assistance for answers to questions and general park information, a small bookstore, restrooms, water, and shade for those walking Gumbo Limbo Trail and Anhinga Trail (Staff photo).

Because of its enormous size, Everglades National Park has multiple routes to take. This can be overwhelming to those new to the park, and it is recommended to roam the park with a plan.

Jenny Rose, 21, a visitor and college student, said her No. 1 recommendation for potential visitors would be to go with a friend who knows a lot about environmental science.

“If I would go, I would just go to experience one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, as it exists nowhere else. It’s probably going to be underwater in 100 years, so see it while you can,” Rose said. “this swampy marshland is one of the only places in the U.S where you can find saltwater species and freshwater species. I would say just go and take from it wha.t you will and enjoy the experience. You need to really see it with a naturalist and get the whole overlay of it.”

A wild bird looks for fish at Royal Palm (Photo by Adam Spector).

According to the National Park Service, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The park protects an unparalleled landscape that provides an important habitat for countless rare and or endangered species like American crocodile, the Florida panther and manatees.

According to Bryony Forbes, an interpretive park ranger and guide, “in 1947, the park was established to protect what was left of the Everglades. The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s actually known as a river of grass because as you’re driving through the sawgrass, so there’s water underneath there, and the water is actually moving,” Forbes said. “All of South Florida from about four water bail down used to be Everglades. However, the city of Miami was built, and this park was made to protect what was not yet destroyed.

Forbes recommended the Gumbo Limbo trail to first-timers, which is near the Royal Palm Visitor Center. This self-guiding, paved trail goes through a shaded, jungle-like hammock of gumbo limbo trees, royal palms and air plants.

Frank Gissoni, an environmental science teacher at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, who estimates that he has visited Everglades National park an impressive 75 times in the past 20 years, gave a more detailed description of the Gumbo Limbo Trail.

An Everglades alligator suns near the water at Royal Palm (Staff photo).

“That’s a trail through a hardwood hammock that has a lot of Gumbo Limbos in it. There’s a couple of other examples South Florida native plants,” Gissoni said. I think the most interesting thing in the trail is what’s called a solution a pole, which is basically where the leaves that fall from the trees mix in with the rainwater and release tannic acid, then it actually eats up a hole in the limestone. So, there’s a couple of neat South Florida environmental kinds of things to look at.

Meryl Shriver-Rice, professor and director of Environmental Media for the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami , estimates she has visited Everglades National Park between two and three dozen times. Needless to say, she has learned from her many experiences at the park what to look for and what to avoid.

The walkway for visitors at Royal Palm is build over the water and sawgrass for wildlife viewing (Photo by Adam Spector).

“If you just randomly enter the Everglades, you’re not really prepared for what you’re going to and particularly if it’s mosquito season, then you probably won’t learn or enjoy very much of anything,” Shriver-Rice said. “Unless you’re a birder or someone particularly fascinated with different ecosystems, a lot of people who aren’t prepared are disappointed.

Shriver-Rice also recommended the Gumbo Limbo Trail for first-timers as their first activity because of its nice scenery, shade, easy walk and the fact that it is self-guided. She also strongly recommended airboat tours.

“To really enjoy the Everglades, one has to go out an airboat. On an airboat, you really get out there and see through the water, feel that you’re on the water, understand that it’s all connected, you then visit some tree islands and see wildlife. You get a sense of scale and scope of this beautiful plot,” Shriver-Rice said.

Visitors walking the trails at Royal Palm can observe colorful plants along their way (Staff photo).

Gissoni recommended the Anhinga Trail to newcomers and regulars at Everglades National Park and said it was best to come during hours where there are guided tours.

“Probably the easiest trail is the Anhinga Trail, which is near the Gumbo Limbo Trail. There’s lots of wildlife with nesting birds and alligators,” Gissoni said. The best time of the year is probably February or March because you’ll have a chance to see some baby Gators and it’s a really nice time to go down there. The weather is also nice and a lot less buggy”

After the long and interesting journey, many visitors tend to stop by the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand, which is a Family-owned market featuring local fruits, veggies and famous milkshakes.

“I definitely recommend Robert is Here. It’s kind of a staple of the area,” Rose said.

While not as big of a fanatic of Robert is Here as others, Shriver-Rice mentioned this market as being interesting because of its old-fashioned charm and history.

“If you’ve lived here (Miami-Dade County), then you’ve seen so much change, and Robert is Here has always been there. Many people grew up remembering this as a destination for the area, or they took their kids there. I think the fact that it’s still there is unique.

Robert Moehling Jr., one of the owners of the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand, and son of the original Robert, explained that the market started and got its name from his father in 1959 when he used to sell local fruits around this area and mark his location with a big sign that said: “Robert is here.”

Everglades visitors using the Florida City south entrance to the park often stop at Robert Is Here roadside produce market.

Moehling also mentioned that Robert is Here, and the area surrounding Everglades National Park is a unique change of pace for visitors from outside of town.

“You can go to Miami; you can get all the modern junk, that’s fine, but come back here, in the Everglades area for a unique experience,” Moehling said. At our market, everything is done the old-fashioned way. After we write down on a paper bag your order, we will sit and have a conversation like we are right now. You can’t find this anywhere else in Miami anymore. This is like a blast from the past to come in here, and we also have a 100-year-old tractor and three airplanes that kids can crawl on. Nobody is telling you what to do.”

Rose explained that despite not being the most visitor-friendly park, the experience of going to this national park is more than worthwhile.

A display of antiques in the back of Robert Is Here is popular with visitors (Photo by Adam Spector).

“Everglades National Park is not one of those destinations where you can just stop by for an hour without a plan, see everything, then leave. This is one of those places where you need to do research in advance and know what you’re looking for. While it sounds like a lot of effort, it’s not, and it’s a rewarding experience every time I visit.

If You Go

  • Park address: Everglades National Park, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, Fla., 33034-6733.
  • Phone: 305-242-7700.
  • Website: http://www.nps.gov/ever
  • Robert is Here address: 19200 SW 344th S.t., Florida City, Fla. 33034.
  • Phone: 305-246-1592.
  • Web site: http://www.robertishere.com.

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