As we adjusted our bottoms on the hard metal seats of the airboat, Captain Rick regaled us with his lovely tales of mosquito swarms and the dreadful night he decided that being here was a good idea. Then he powered up the awfully noisy motor and we were off, skimming the shallow waters of the Everglades.
The Florida Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness area in the United States and the third largest national park in the continental U.S. At nearly 1.5 million acres in size, this park is an important habitat for many rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther.
Sometimes called the “River of Grass”, the Everglades is part of a complex system of interdependent ecosystems that include cypress swamps, mangrove forests, tropical hardwood forests, and the marine environment of Florida Bay. Because of its huge size, there are several entrances to the park all over south Florida, on both the East and West coasts (with the Everglades being in the middle).
Everglades Holiday Park
Just a 40 minute drive west of Ft. Lauderdale, you feel like you are finally going “down south.” It’s like two different worlds leaving the resort, city feel of Ft. Lauderdale and entering the ‘glades.’
Everglades Holiday Park has recently been turned over to Broward County, but still has a bit of that country/ramshackle flavor. We took one of their very popular airboat tours. It was so loud and seemed so disruptive to the environment that I have to admit it seemed a little counterintuitive. I later read that most of the nearly 2400 square miles of Everglades National Park is managed as a wilderness area and Airboats are prohibited in those parts of the park.
Captain Rick Reda was quite a character who had been a lifelong resident of the “glades.” For the first half of the boat tour, I wasn’t sure if he was just telling dramatic tales for the tourists’ amusement or if these were true stories. When he fed a bird a worm out of this own mouth, I started to swallow his seemingly tall tales.
We did see some wildlife, but I had mixed emotions about the environmental impact of the boats and other activities in this particular park. Just last summer, one boat operator (at a different park) had part of his arm bitten off for illegally feeding an alligator, likely in order to make his tour more exciting and in turn make more tips. Just another reason to re-think how these private parks operate and to perhaps ban the boats in more places to allow the animals to live in their habitat and keep the people separated. There are many conservation concerns with the Everglades that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say, over the last century this area has shrunk to half of its original size as agricultural and residential development in the region (and, in turn, irrigation and flood control demands) has expanded. The process has been accelerated over the last several decades by the growth of the sugar industry and skyrocketing development of Florida’s east coast. Because of this, water is diverted from and sometimes to the Everglades as the needs of these adjacent residential and agricultural uses dictate. Accordingly, the ecological balance of the area has been thrown off, resulting in habitat and biodiversity loss.
At Everglades Holiday Park, they also had some kind of alligator shows with the “Gator Boys,” but honestly, I avoided this as I came out to the wilderness to see animals actually in the wild, not held captive. This part of it seemed a bit too circus-act to me and is not my thing. In the end, I might recommend checking out one of the official Everglades National Park entrances rather than this formerly-privately owned property.
Disclosure: During my time in Ft. Lauderdale and the Everglades, I was a guest of the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort, but as usual all writing and opinions are my own.