Big Cypress National Preserve Frequently Asked Questions

How big is the Preserve? 729,000 acres.

Why are the canals built beside the road? Much of the Preserve is under water many months of the year. The canals are really borrow pits and the materials were used for the construction of roads. The swamp lands were drilled and blasted. The excavated rock was then used for road fill.

How much rainfall do you get here? The Preserve receives an average of 70 inches of rainfall annually. Some years it can be much more or less than that. The differences are spelled out in their enabling legislations. Everglades has the same policies as other National Parks. Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use, hunting, and mineral(oil) extraction are allowed at Big Cypress.

Isn't it hot here in the summer time? High temperatures can be in the 90's and high humidities can make it seem even hotter. Afternoon thunder storms bring the temperatures down temporarily into the high 70's. Also, areas nearby the ocean have evening breezes which tend to cool things off. Many areas in the central eastern U.S. have similar temperatures- and up there they might not have the breezes and/or afternoon thundershowers to cool things off. People prepare for the heat by drinking a lot of water and dressing properly for the heat.

Animals

Where can I see alligators?

There may be alligators in the ponds just outside the visitor center. A good place to see them is along Turner River Road. Traffic is much slower there than on US 41. You can pull over and watch them without fear of interfering with the fast moving traffic on US 41. Other good places are Shark Valley, Big Cypress Bend boardwalk, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk.

How big do alligators get? The longest one ever taken in Florida was just over 14 feet long. It weighed about 800 pounds. The heaviest one ever taken was just a fraction of an inch shorter but weighed 1,040 pounds. They all start out small, though.

How long do alligators stay under water? Up to 45 minutes.

Why aren't we allowed to feed the alligators? Feeding alligators may make them dependent upon humans for food and they lose their natural fear of humans. Then when people get too close, alligators may attack them if they don't offer them food. Alligators that attack people are destroyed. Alligators have very small brain capacity. They cannot tell where the marshmallow ends and your hand begins.

Feeding wildlife is dangerous

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Where can I see crocodiles? Crocodiles live in salt water. They can be found in Florida Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean some distance to the north. They have been seen as far north as Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico.

What is the bird that sits with its wings outstretched? The anhinga is the bird that sits with its wings outstretched near the water. It is drying its wings after diving for fish. It has no natural oils in its feathers; oils would make it too buoyant for diving. The female anhinga has a brown head and neck.

Do you really have panthers here? Am I likely to see one? Florida Panthers live here. However, there are so few of them that it is highly unlikely that you would see one in the wild. There are between approximately 75 Florida panthers left in the State. About two dozen panthers use the Preserve, of which 15 are being tracked by radio collar.. The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) is one of more than 20 subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor). Until 1993, the cougar was classified in the genus Felis along with the domestic cat, the ocelot, and 27 other species. In 1993 the cougar was reassigned to the genus Puma . Concolor means one color. Cougar adults are a uniform tawny color with lighter fur on their lower chests, belly, and inner legs. Shades of individual animals may vary considerably from grayish to reddish to yellowish. This uniform color conceals them effectively in a variety of settings including the open range.

What are the white birds with the long necks? Egrets. The Great Egret is the striking, all white, long-legged, long-necked bird with a yellow bill and blackish legs that embellishes the marshes and shallows around bays and estuaries. An adult Egret measures about 40 inches from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail, it has a wing spread of about 4-1/2 feet, and it weighs approximately two pounds.

What are the big black birds you see along the road? Black vultures. Watch for turkey vultures as well. They are black with red heads.

Do you have bears here? We have big black bears. With South Florida's climate, bears have no need to hibernate. Food is available rear-round. If you see a bear near a road, please slow down. They often travel across roads and are not road-wise.

Are there mosquitoes here? The concentration of mosquitoes depends upon the amount of water available to them at the time of egg laying. If there is too much water, it washes away the eggs and reduces the mosquito population. Mosquito season can occur any time between May and November; however, June through August is usually the worst time.

What are the big orange grasshoppers? They are lubber grasshoppers. They don't fly. They come out every year about the same time. They contain a poison that makes them very bitter to the taste.

What are the little black grasshoppers? They are immature lubber grasshoppers.

What are wildlife crossings? Wildlife crossings are bridges built to allow wildlife to cross underneath roadways. Collisions with vehicles account for many panther deaths as well as the deaths of other wildlife. Every major Preserve creature is known to use them. They are constructed along Alligator Alley. There is also one on State Road 29 nearby Copeland Prison.

Plants

Where can I see the Big Cypress trees? The big in Big Cypress doesn't refer to the size ot the trees themselves. It really refers to the expansive area covered by trees of the dwarf pond cypress variety, the predominant species here. Most of the great baldcypress trees were logged during the early 20th century. There is an accessible stand of great baldcypress trees by Clyde Butcher's Photo Studio less than mile east of the Visitor Center. There are several stands of them along the Loop Road. There is a good stand of them in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Try Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk along US 41 immediately west of Big Cypress National Preserve. A large number of great baldcypress trees remains at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary run by the National Audubon Society. It is 72 miles from the Visitor Center. You can approach it by taking State Road 29 north and then connecting with County Road 846. You can also approach it from the west by taking Immokalee Road from U.S. 41 or Exit 17 from I-75.

What are the trees that have lost all their leaves? These are the bald cypress trees. They lose their leaves at the beginning of the dry season and don't grow them back until the beginning of the wet season. Pond Cypress also lose their leaves.

Things to Do

What is there to do here?

You can :

Bird

  • the birding is best in about the middle of the dry season. Wading birds such as great egrets, cattle egrets, tri-colored herons, black crowned night herons and wood storks can be seen as fish concentrate in canals and ponds. Raptors such as red-shouldered hawks, screech owl, and osprey, are present most of the time. Killdeer can be found in marshes or other open areas. Belted kingfishers can be seen perching on power lines or limbs near canals.

Bike

  • bikes are allowed anywhere ORV's can travel. one of these places is on the improved limerock roads located in the Bear Island Unit. Non-hunting bicycle access to the Bear Island Unit may occur via the Fire Prairie Trail , Turner River Road (SR 839) and the Bear Island Grade at State Highway 29. It leads through strands of fully developed bald cypress trees and features several places where water is channeled through culverts creating excellent fishing . Turtles, snakes, wading birds, otters, and raccoons are common.

Bear Island is a major oil producing areas in the preserve. Oil storage tanks are surrounded by a berm to prevent pollution in the event of an accidental rupture. Please stay your distance from these fields as oil mineral rights and subsurface estates remain with private interests. These areas are off limits to everyone except oil exploration staff do to the hazardous nature of oil exploration. Unimproved Loop Road is also a good place for bicycling.

Fish

  • Florida gar and Oscars are found in canals. (the three ponds in front of the visitor center are off limits) In addition there are bowfin, black crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, walking catfish, mosquitofish, sailfin molly, and several species of sunfish You may also fish in the lakes adjacent to campgrounds. Hike. Camp overnight. Attend campfire program. Hunt. View visitor center exhibits and film. Attend an environmental education activity.

Where does the Florida Trail start? The Florida Trail starts just west of the Oasis Visitor Center. There is a Trail Logo at the trailhead. The trail goes between two fences - one fence is along the canal; the other is along the airstrip. The trail turns right and parallels the length of the air strip. The trail is usually wet from May through November. Depending on the time of the year be prepared to deal with waist-deep water in places. The best time (dry) to hike the trail is January - April.

Where can I drive my car? US 41 has few places where a car can pull off safely to view wildlife. If you do choose to stop on US 41, be sure to pull off on the south side of the road where the shoulder is wider . Then if you choose to walk across to the canal side of the road, watch for cars and trucks. They move rapidly on this road. Don't become a traffic casualty. Besides US 41 you may wish to try the Loop Road. The Loop Road can be rough and covered with water during the wet season. Check at the Oasis Visitor center for the latest road condition. You will need to drive slowly (about 10 miles per hour) and plan on taking about two hours to drive it. Another good drive would be to take Turner River Road north to Wagon Wheel Road, turn left on Wagon Wheel Road, go to Birdon Road, and then turn left on Birdon Road and take it back to US 41. These are lime-rock roads; they are maintained by the county. Their condition depends upon when they were last graded. Drive with caution. Pull well to the side of the road when viewing wildlife.

What kinds of animals do they hunt here? Deer and wild hog mostly.

Where can I take an airboat ride? Airboat rides are offered at various locations along the Tamiami Trail outside the Preserve. They range in price and length. Short rides are about 15 minutes long . Longer rides last about 45 minutes. Airboats can operate in very shallow water because they move by means of an aircraft engine rather than an underwater propeller. They are a novelty ride for visitors; however, they are very noisy making communication impossible while running. Any interpretation of wildlife, scenery, etc., must take place while the boat is not running.

Can you recommend an airboat company? We do not recommend one private company over another. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or a hotel.

What kinds of Off Road Vehicles do they use in the Big Cypress? Airboats, swamp buggies, street legal 4 x 4's, ATV's and ATC's.

Things to Buy

Where can I buy gasoline? There are gas stations about 20 miles to the east and 21 miles to the west of the Preserve Visitor Center at Oasis..

Is coffee or soft drinks for sale? No, all we have is a drinking fountain. You can get soft drinks, etc.at businesses about 20 miles east or west of the Preserve Visitor Center at Oasis. Everglades City has a number of restaurants and motels.

Where can we find lodging and camping facilities? Monument campground has flush toilets and water available. An outside, cold water shower is also available. The $14.00 per night fee (charged only in winter season) includes use of the dump station at Dona Drive in Ochopee. NO HOOKUPS for electricity, sewer or water are available in any of the National Park Service campgrounds in the Preserve. Several motels and privately owned campgrounds are located in Everglades City and Ochopee. Four primitive campgrounds are available to the public free of charge: Bear Island, Midway, Pinecrest, and Mitchell's Landing. These campgrounds have no water or rest room facilities. The Dona Drive area has a dump station with a $4.00 per vehicle charge, and a potable water supply.

Do you sell the Golden Age Passport? You may purchase the Golden Age Passport at the Visitor Center. You have to be 62 years of age or older and present proof of age. (A drivers license will do). Cost is $10.00 for the lifetime pass which allows entrance into fee collection areas of the National Park System. Big Cypress National Preserve does not charge an entrance fee; Everglades does.

Do you sell mosquito repellent? You can buy mosquito repellent at the Visitor Center. You should wear long sleeves and pants and loose fitting clothing. Never wear fragrances since they only attract mosquitoes.

Do you sell stamps? No. Ochopee post office is about 18 miles to the west of the Preserve Visitor Center at Oasis. They sell stamps and offer most postal services.

What is the blue book that says "Passport"? The blue passport book is a publication that you buy from the Florida Park and Monument Association. You can also purchase a set of paper stamps that you may paste on the appropriate pages of the book. There is not a paper stamp for each park - only a stamp from one park chosen to represent each National Park Service Region. Each unit of the system has a cancellation stamp with a changeable date, however.

Other Information

Can I take a helicopter ride over the Preserve? No. The helicopter you may see in operation over the Preserve is most likely the National Park Service helicopter. It is used to conduct Preserve business such as fire fighting, hydrologic monitoring, law enforcement, exempt property monitoring, etc.

Are there any boardwalks in the Preserve? No. But there is one 28 miles west of the visitor center at Big Cypress Bend in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.

How far is it to the nearest gas station? About 20 miles either direction from the Visitor Center.

How far is it to Naples? About 53 miles from the Visitor Center.

How far is it to Miami? About 50 miles from the Visitor Center.

How far is it to Key West? About 187 miles.

How long will it take me to get to Key West? It will take you about 3 to 4 hours to get there. Go to Krome Avenue and turn right on 997. Just outside of Florida City you will come to an intersection where you will be able to look left and see Highway 1. Go left and then catch highway 1 to the right. Take a careful mental picture of landmarks (service stations, restaurants, other buildings) on both sides of Highway 1 at this point. You will need to know where to turn to pick up 997 back through Homestead for your return from the Keys. It is very easy to miss the left turn from Highway 1 back to 997 as you travel north. If you miss this connection, you will be heading straight through Miami on Highway 1.

How far is it to the Miccosukee Cultural Center? About 20 miles to the east of the Oasis Visitor Center.

How can I get to Alligator Alley? Take State Road 29 north; take County Road 951 north. (Turner River Road does not connect with the Interstate.)

Does the Turner River Road connect with Alligator Alley? No.

Where is the nearest restaurant heading towards Naples? There are some restaurants on US 41 starting 17 miles to the west of the Visitor Center. Everglades City has a number of restaurants. Turn south on State Road 29 and go four miles.

Where is the nearest restaurant heading towards Miami? There is a restaurant about 20 miles east of the Visitor Center.

How do you take a tour of the Indian Villages? The nearest one to visit is at the Miccosukee Cultural Center. There is a museum as well as a village tour.

Where is the Seminole Indian Museum?

The new Seminole Indian Museum is in the Seminole Indian Reservation off the Snake Road which intersects with Alligator Alley near the eastern part of the Preserve.

What is it like in the Everglades? Does it look the same as the Preserve?

The Everglades covers several distinctive environments; however, the one for which it is best known is probably the sawgrass prairie; the Preserve also has sawgrass prairies. It also has many more strands (deep troughs in the limestone with water all year) and hammocks (climax vegetation areas characterized by hardwood trees such as gumbo limbo).

What should I do at Everglades National Park?

Everglades National Park has tram rides, boat tours, camping, boardwalks, interpretive programs, and visitor centers.

When are the tram tours and how much do they cost? Tram tours are offered at different times depending upon the season. Call the concessioner for exact times. Tours last two hours and have either a National Park Service Interpreter or Concession Employee on board to explain things to you.

Why did the water to the Everglades dry up? Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the United States, was the original source of water for the Everglades. In response to a 1928 hurricane which caused the lake to overflow its banks and kill about 2,000 people, the lake was diked. Canals were constructed to drain water for agricultural and civic needs.

What is being done to restore the Everglades? Rivers are being restored to their original channels. Canals are being refilled. Water Containment Areas are being constructed to allow impurities to settle out before the water is released into the ecosystem.

How far is it to Shark Valley? It's 20 miles to Shark Valley from the Visitor Center. You can take a tram from the Visitor Center to the Observation Tower (7.5 miles one way). You can also rent bikes and travel it on your own. There is an entrance fee to get into Everglades National Park.

Where do we go to get on the boat ride at Everglades City? Go through Everglades City and through a round about and then straight ahead. Just a little ways ahead you will see the Gulf Coast Ranger Station on the right. Buy your ticket from the concessioner. A National Park Service interpreter accompanies some of the tours. Tours are an hour and 45 minutes long.

How far is it to Flamingo? It is 110 miles to Flamingo from the Big Cypress Visitor Center. Be sure and stop at the Coe Visitor Center at Everglades and see all the exhibits.

Why do you have prescribed fires? We conduct prescribed burns in order to prevent excessive fuel build up and consequent destructive fires. It also helps to return nutrients to subsequent forage plants for deer.

Can you get diseases from mosquitoes? You can get encephalitis and West Nile virus as well as malaria and yellow fever from certain mosquitoes. However, these are not a common threat in Florida.

What do they spray on the mosquitoes to control them? The National Park Service does not spray for mosquitoes. Malathion is not used in the Preserve since it kills fish and birds.

Where does the mercury come from that has collected in the fish? Mercury occurs naturally in the environment. It also comes from exhaust and industrial emissions. It then becomes further concentrated as it moves up the food chain. Our top predator, the Florida panther, has sometimes been damaged by high levels of mercury in its system.

Is it safe to hike on the trails? The trails are safe if you observe certain precautions: don't molest or feed wildlife; dress properly; supply yourself with enough food and water; know where you are going and how to use a compass if you are going on an extended hike. The National Park Service does not maintain the Florida Trail and takes no responsibility for improperly flagged trails.

Is it safe to camp here? It is safe when you use good judgment. Don't swim in any of the lakes. There are alligators in them. Don't take small dogs nearby the lakes. Alligators may eat them. Alligators can come quickly out of the water and make a quick dispatch of your pet. To avoid snakes never put your hands in a place where you have not looked in advance. If you are allergic to insect stings, prepare yourself in advance with appropriate medication; insect repellent will not work against stinging insects. Watch your children. Keep them at your side.

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