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where onearth

lonely hunter A statue-still egret stalks fish in an Everglades cypress dome.

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In Everglades National Park, the primordial is present-day By kim tingley

andwiched between coasts teeming with people and

bordered by two major highways, Everglades National Park nevertheless seems far removed from civilization. As you drive on Interstate 75—known as Alligator Alley—the expanse of serrated sawgrass on either side appears infinite. Combed through its blades, tannin-tinted water flows imperceptibly southward—the reason the author and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas named this place the “River of Grass.” A subtropical sun warms the backs of massive reptiles basking on the banks. Hammocks of sabal palm and live oak hide the nests of wading birds. Heavy afternoon clouds bring rain and fire to the diversity of habitats: shady cypress sloughs and pine forests, coastal lowlands, mangroves, brackish estuaries, and marl prairie. Visitors can enter the park from either coast. At Shark Valley, near Miami, take a tram tour or bike through a paved stretch of park where alligators are plentiful. On the Gulf side, look for manatees in the canal behind the marina in the town of Flamingo. From there or from Everglades City, take a guided boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands, home to dolphins, osprey, smalltooth sawfish, and invasive Burmese pythons. Between Everglades City and Flamingo stretches the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, which—if you’re prepared to paddle against wind and tides and brave the stings of mosquitoes—may be the most rewarding way to experience this natural wonder, an ecosystem still untamed enough to resist you.

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Gator Aid Before damming and dredging made

Florida a paradise for tourists and developers, the Everglades stretched uninterrupted from just south of Orlando to the foot of the peninsula. Now nearly half of the original Everglades has been lost to development, and what’s left is threatened by the redistribution of water through locks and canals. Meanwhile, residents’ need for freshwater is straining the state’s aquifers. In 2000 President Clinton signed into law the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which will spend $13.5 billion over 30 years to optimize the flow of clean water through South Florida. So far, funds have been used to fill seven miles of canals, remove 65 miles of roadway, and restore 13,000 acres of habitat. But overall, progress remains dishearteningly slight, and far too slow to counter the effects of overdevelopment. evergladesplan.org

snap pictures of birds, alligators, and other wildlife on the Anhinga Trail inside Everglades National Park. floridahikes.com/anhingatrail lunch on hush puppies and listen to live music at Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, in Ochopee. joaniesbluecrabcafe.com stock uP on local fruits and vegetables (and try the tropical fruit shake!) at Robert Is Here, in Florida City. robertishere.com 1 4 onearth

spring 2014

farrell grehan/national geographic creative

totally swamped

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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