So luckily, this Labor Day weekend, we were able to get out and about on Monday! Joey had the day off from practice so we headed out to Naples, FL to hike through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
We’d seen pictures online and I’d pinned this place months ago, but nothing compared to actually being within the Sanctuary. Not only is it super fun, at times even terrifying to walk through, it holds so much interesting history that I never would have expected!
The Sanctuary is home to the Earth’s largest Ancient Virgin Bald Cypress Forest, which is why it also goes by “Cypress Forest.” Throughout the hike, there are 12 HUGE Cypress trees that are over 500 years old and are each named after someone who dedicated their lives to preserving the forest and protecting the variety of bird species and other animals that call this forest home.
5,000 years ago the forest was first home to the Calusa tribe, who would canoe through the forest while hunting fish, turtles, and alligators (the entire forest is underwater BTW, so when you’re hiking through, you’re actually on an elevated boardwalk above the water.) By the late 1800s, the forest was taken over by European and American Plume Hunters who hunted the feathers of egrets and herons used to decorate women’s fashion hats at the time. Because of these hunts, so many bird species were nearly wiped out. It was then that a women, Blaire Audubon, a Boston society matron decided to take action. She began a campaign to protect the birds. Soon the Audubon Society was founded and sent “wardens” to camp out in the forest and prevent hunters from killing the birds. Because of these efforts, many of the bird species fought their way out of extinction.
Not long after, the forest had to again be saved. In 1930 lumbermen began cutting the cypress trees down because their wood was/is highly resistant to rot and therefore in demand. They began logging to build railroads, houses, etc. This nearly took out the entire forest. Thankfully, in 1952, the Audubon Society along with others, took notice and fought to save the forest for a second time. In 1954 the forest was officially given to the Audubon Society as a preserved location and given the name Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. 10 years later it was officially designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. Since then, more and more cypress trees have been able to grow, expanding the forest into what it once was before.
Hopefully I didn’t lose you with all that history, I just thought it was so fascinating. But now to the fun part! The Sanctuary is located within a large range of land dedicated to the comeback of the endangered Florida Panther. So naturally, we googled Florida Panther at Corkscrew Swamp and were shocked to see so many photos and one pretty scary video of the Panthers along the boardwalk. You have to go on Youtube and search “Florida Panther at Corkscrew Swamp”a panther literally ran right by a woman on the boardwalk! Of course, because the Florida Panther is endangered, sightings are pretty rare so we didn’t end up seeing one, which I’m actually kinda happy about.
The swamp is also home to Florida Black Bears, which are nocternal so we didn’t see any BUT we did see (this is kinda gross) the “scat” as they call it, or feces, of Black Bears throughout the boardwalk. When you first walk in the park, there’s a sign that tells you what”scat” belongs to what animal. The swamp is also home to alligators, deer, snakes, turtles, raccoons, fish, frogs, and otters (YES! otters!), among tons of insects like spiders and butterflies.
While all these animals exist in the sanctuary, what it is most famous for, are the species of birds who live here. I’ll only name a few not to bore you and you can google images of them if you want! Here it goes: Anhinga, Barred Owls, Egrets, Hawks, Ibis, Limpkin, Meadowlark, Night Heron, Yellow Throat, Woodpecker, Vulture, Wood Stork, etc. There are TONS! and majority of them only exist within the Cypress Forest. When you walk in through the visitor center, they actually give you a guide and scavenger hunt to cross off the animals and insects you see. I won’t lie, I had so much fun doing it.
We were kinda bummed we didn’t see any owls, but now we have an excuse to go back! We truly had such a great Labor Day, regardless of the terror I sometimes felt walking through the swamp without anyone near us, especially after seeing that Florida Panther video! Had me feeling all types of adventurous! Hope everyone else out there had a great Labor Day!