Big Cypress National Preserve The first National Preserve established in the National Park System has a mixture of pines, hardwoods and prairies mixed with palm trees, mangrove and orchids. White-tailed deer, bear and Florida panther can be found in the same areas as the more tropical linguus tree snail, cape sable seaside sparrow and roseat
Big" refers not to the tree's size but to the swamp's extent of more than 2,400 square miles in subtropical Florida. "Swamp" is a misnomer, for the land consists of sandy islands of slash pine, mixed hardwood hammocks (tree islands), wet prairies, dry prairies, marshes, and estuarine mangrove forests. Still, "swamp" somehow fits. At its best the swamp should be seen by any of us who dream of the world as it was before we humans arrived. Air plants, both bromeliads and orchids, perch on the cypress and hammock trees like strange bird nests. An occasional Florida panther leaves impressive paw marks in wet marl. Black bears claw crayfish from the sloughs or rip cabbage palmetto apart for its soft fruits.
Big Cypress is about one-third covered with cypress trees, mostly the dwarf pond cypress variety. Broad belts of these trees grow around the edge of wet prairies; cypress strands line the sloughs; and occasional cypress domes dot the horizon with the symmetry of paint bubbles. Giant cypresses are nearly gone. They are the great bald cypresses. Today's few remaining giants, escapees of the lumber era, are extremely old; some as much as 600 to 700 years. Their bulbous bases flare downward and outward to root systems loosely locked in rich, wet organic peat. Their girths outstretch the combined embrace of you and 3 long-armed friends. The big cypress trees stand safe now, here in this national preserve, from earlier fates as gutters, coffins, stadium seats, pickle barrels, and the hulls of PT boats The main resource is water, fresh water wending slowly seaward, requiring a day to flow across a full mile of the land's incredibly unrelieved flatness.
With completion of the Tamiami Trail in 1928, the Big Cypress became easily accessible; economic exploitation began in earnest. Lumbering boomed in the 1930's and 1940's; small settlements at Ochopee, Monroe Station, and Pinecrest, attracted rugged people. Many lived here as hunters, fishermen, guides, plant collectors, and cattlemen - latter day frontiersmen fleeing urban restraints. Florida's first producing oil well was drilled in 1943 north of the present-day preserve, near Sunniland. During the 1960's drainage of the Big Cypress began as land development and speculation schemes blossomed. Thousands invested sight unseen in land that was under water much of the year. Public interest burgeoned when jetport plans were unveiled in 1968 for the swamp's eastern edge. The threat posed to the watershed of Everglades National Park sparked establishment of the Big Cypress National Preserve. The 1970's brought more enlightened attitudes toward watersheds and wetlands.
Today Florida is much involved in environmental protection efforts. Now we are back simply to trying nature's way while allowing for recreational enjoyment. Sixty inches of rain fall in an average year, beginning as clouds stacked up over the Gulf of Mexico. The rain falls and falls during a season of thunderstorms that usually begins each year in May. The rains flood the cypress strands and prairies before flowing slowly to the south through Everglades National Park. It is a slow drainage upon which creatures great and small have learned to depend. Only humans were quite slow to realize our dependence. The land slopes only two inches per mile to the Gulf of Mexico, causing a delayed drainage of the wet season's water bounty, its life blood. The gradual drainage extends the wet season by 2 to 3 full months after the rain