FAKAHATCHEE STRAND PRESERVE STATE PARK
Welcome to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, ?the Amazon of North America.? The Fakahatchee Strand is a linear swamp forest, approximately twenty miles long by five miles wide and oriented from north to south. It has been sculpted by the movement of water for thousands of years and clean fresh water is the key to its existence. Beneath a protective canopy of bald cypress trees flows a slow moving, shallow river or slough that is warmer than the ambient temperature in the winter and cooler in the summer. The buffering effect of the slough and the deeper lakes that punctuate it shield the forest interior from extreme cold temperatures and this fosters a high level of rare and endangered tropical plant species.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park hosts a wide array of habitats and forest types from the wetter swamps and prairies to the drier islands of tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rock lands. Its groves of native royal palms are the most abundant in the state and the ecosystem of the Fakahatchee Strand is the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the forest canopy. It is the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent with 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species. It is a haven for wildlife. Florida panthers still pursue white-tailed deer from the uplands across the wetlands. Florida black bears and Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks and diamondback terrapins can still be found here. The resident and migratory bird life is spectacular and attracts many enthusiastic visitors.
Changes on an ecosystem-wide level are predicted to occur within the Fakahatchee Strand over the coming decades as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is implemented. The restoration of the Prairie Canal which defines the western border of the Preserve is an especially important aspect of CERP. For almost half a century the Prairie Canal has hastened the drainage of water that the native plant and animal communities of the Fakahatchee Strand depend upon. Once the Prairie Canal is completely filled in, the surface water will move across the landscape, draining slowly instead of poring into bigger canals and gushing into the estuaries of the 10,000 Islands. It will recharge groundwater and pass through the natural filtration processes of swamps, prairies, marshes and mangroves before gradually mixing with salt water.
The southern portion of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is a part of one of the most productive estuarine ecosystems in the world. Beneath the surface, where fresh water gradually becomes more saline, ideal conditions exist for spawning and the development of the fry of commercially and recreationally important fish species. Rookeries of wading birds color the landscape with dots of white, blue and pink. Canoeists and kayakers enjoy exploring amidst the scenic beauty. Anglers ply the mangrove-hugged backwaters for snook, snapper, tarpon and redfish. West Indian manatees float about in slow motion while American crocodiles carry on their secretive existence, slipping in and out of the of the tannic water to bask in the sun. On the coastal keys of the Ten Thousand Islands, loggerhead and green sea turtles return annually to nest on the same spits of white sand beach from which they themselves once emerged.
In spite of the ecological damage visited upon the Fakahatchee Strand in the past by clear-cut logging, road building and drainage, it has recovered remarkably well and remains a fairly intact and functional natural system. The raised railway beds or trams of the old logging train still crisscross the Fakahatchee Strand and they create a grid of trails, many of which are maintained for hiking. The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk provides visitors a glimpse into the past as it winds through a stand of primary cypress forest. The Fakahatchee Strand is an ecological gem.
Deer, raccoons, opossums, red-shouldered hawks, turkeys, barred owls, and vultures are commonly seen in the park. The wetlands attract huge alligators, ducks, wading birds, sand hill cranes, roseate spoonbills, eagles, ospreys, and shorebirds.
Through out time there has been human activity and occupation within the Fakahatchee Strand. During prehistoric periods of lower sea levels, when water was in short supply on the peninsula, the sinkholes were very often a focus of activity for Paleo-Indian (ca. 12,000 BC to 6500 BC) and Early Archaic (ca. 6500 BC to 5000 BC) peoples. From about 500 BC to European contact people of the Circum-Glades culture were prevalent in the area.
Throughout the history of the Glades Culture the basic subsistence pattern of hunting, gathering and fishing seems to have persisted. While other Florida cultures to the north gradually made the transition to agriculture production, people of the Circum-Glades area remained relatively unchanged for about two thousand years. Not only did their subsistence pattern endure, but also their technology changed very little over this long time span.
At the southern tip of the preserve, on a point where the Fakahatchee River and East River empty into the Fakahatchee Bay are the remains of an early pioneer settlement known as Daniel?s Point. This is where John Daniels raised his family and scratched out a living from the early 1900s to the 1940s. Directly across Fakahatchee Bay from Daniels Point existed a settlement of several families on Fakahatchee Island. The settlement was large enough to support its own school. This is where the Daniels? children went to school.
Beginning in the early 1940s the logging of cypress trees became prevalent in the Big Cypress Swamp. During the period between the early 1940s to the late 1950s the Fakahatchee Strand was also logged for its valuable bald cypress trees. The C.J. Jones Logging Co. was one of the companies involved in this endeavor. Cypress logging was very successful and profitable until the late 1950s. Today remnants of the old logging rail beds (ie.trams) are used as access and hiking trails within the swamp.