Everglades National Park is the largest park in the United States. It is for the most part raw everglades, or at least I thought so. During our visit to the park we explored three different areas. Our purpose was to identify various species common to the everglades and start on our bird watching. Of course this was all to enhance our appreciation for our neighboring ecosystem. This it did, adding a sour note to our visit in my opinion. Everglades National Park was supposed to be natural not adapted to benefit man but this it was with pavement and boardwalks.
The visitor center was a prime example of how man changes things. A beautiful pond was behind the main building but it turned out to be a borrow pit, man made. The visitor center itself was a modern structure with the purpose of educating it's visitors with pretty wildlife presentations and a large gift shop. The tollbooth was not much different it was a tall structure similar to highway tolls. Although one cannot blame the state for its modern introduction, we have to look good for the tourist. And the roads of new pavement make easy traveling for anyone.
Royal Palm, our next stop of the day, was a large marsh with another building and relatively new parking lot and a crisp boardwalk. Nature surrounded us but yet it was as though there was an invisible barrier between us. The animals were there, Great Blue Herons and Baby Alligators; close enough to touch yet something essential was missing. The marsh was a tranquil and beautiful letting us walk on its clean boardwalk to identify plant species but the marsh was also a borrow pit. So far I've seen two man made water systems, two nice buildings, new pavement, a crew of workers building a bridge, and a clean boardwalk. I wonder why there is something missing.
Pa-hay-okee overlook was not much different to Royal Palm. It had a nice paved parking lot and a lovely boarded overlook. I have to admit the view was marvelous. Open uninhibited Everglades with Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. Beneath us the water sustaining the life in the everglades with an empty water bottle and someone's blue hat. Could we get any more natural?
It seems to be that everywhere we go we have to leave our undeniable human touch. May it be in the Amazon, Africa, or our watery backyard the Everglades? It has to be due to our overwhelming need for power and control. We lay pavement and bridges through the Everglades as if to control how the water flows and through where it flows. In classrooms we are taught that with our simple gestures we destroy and ultimately take control of what is not ours to control. If the Everglades are a changing ecosystem, be it because of our human interaction with it or its ultimate destiny, why are we aiding the water flow or laying pavement when we should be letting it transform itself?
Not our entire trip was as modified as Royal Palm and Pa-hay-okee overlook, Long Pine Trail was as natural as I expected it to be. Tall Pine trees with saw palmetto, dense and rocky to walk through. There were only two small cots that I could see from afar. And the three picnic tables that were made out of old dirty wood were where we ate lunch. The parking lot consisted of about eight spots. From a far distance we saw a White Tailed Deer and I did not feel that barrier I had felt before. This might have been due to the ruggedness of the terrain or the surrounding wilderness.
The Hardwood Hammock we walked through also gave me that feeling that it was raw nature we were in. It was a dense hot area with blood sucking mosquitoes. The hammock was infested with poison ivy, which we had to be careful not to crash into. From my childhood recollections poison ivy is much like a severe case of the chicken pox. Within the hammock there was an old pond, which now can be confused for a miniature swamp. Realizing it was once a man made pond or spring gives one the startling reality that nature is lending itself to our wants and needs and will reclaim its land at will.
Do our stereotypes on nature being dense and difficult ultimately warp our experiences? I think that in some instances they do. Our trip to the Everglades was probably as natural as some of us will ever get. Then why did I feel so cheated? I went to the National Park awaiting Long Pine Trail and the Hardwood Hammock not Royal Palm or the Visitor Center. Am I expecting dirt trails that don't exist anymore, is what I saw nature at its best? I really hope not because if it is, my children have no chance of seeing anything raw and natural.
Everglades National Park has a list of negative complaints from me. Although as unnatural as I saw it to be I walked away with pages full of notes and a ton of new highlights for my Audubon Field Guide. Now the question I have to ask myself is: is what I learned good enough to overlook all of my sour notes? Honesty I haven't answered that yet. But for right now I don't think it is fair to sacrifice one thing for the other because most of the species I saw I can find in a five block radius from my house.
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