Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

A Letter to Save Everglades National Park

©Bert Gildart: In the late 1960s I wrote a letter to my senator expressing my revulsion to a project that would have destroyed a priceless area not only of America, but of the world. I remember the letter as it was my first-ever such letter. My letter asked Senator Mike Mansfield to vote against construction in Florida of what would have been the world’s largest international airport.

CROCODILE: Certainly I wasn’t alone, and I know that my idea to write was probably generated by others with whom I worked, for at the time I was a seasonal ranger in Glacier National Park, and all of us were environmentally aware.

Some of my ranger friends were working winters in the Everglades, and they described the park’s beauty but also the surrounding threats.My letter of protest—and more significantly—letters that people from around the world wrote, stated that the Everglades with its unparalleled concentrations of birds, alligators and crocodiles was unique—and should be protected. The letters said preservation of the park was of international interest, and they were right, as in 1979 the park was designated a World Heritage Site.

Certainly my letter was no more than a blade in a vast sea of grass, but, today, almost 30-some years later, I am proud that I wrote that letter, particularly now after seeing what must certainly be one of the nation’s most impressive assemblages of wildlife.

Over the past five days, Janie and I have seen literally thousands of birds, hundreds of alligators, and just yesterday, our first crocodile. We saw the crocodile in Florida Bay, which is a salt water environment, and we knew instantly what it was. There’s simply no way you can mistake that assemblage of teeth pointing up with anything else.

Crocodiles are native here, not introduced, though this is the northern extent of their range. Crocodiles, however, are confined to the Flamingo area, the southern-most tip in the park to which you can drive.

ALLIGATOR HOLES: Alligators differ from crocodiles most apparently in their dentition. But they also differ in their habits. In the winter, the dry season, alligators muscle out mud from pockets in the Everglades that can hold water, and in so doing create an environment not only necessary for themselves, but for a host of other species as well.

If the airport had been built in the early 1970s, it would have stopped the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee. In a completely natural world, water once flowed south from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades. Over the years waters have been diverted to serve the influx of people, mostly those living in Miami.

Years ago the Army Corps of Engineers substituted culverts and channels for this natural flow to the Everglades.

But with a series of yet more channels they also diverted the majority of the water that flowed naturally through this river of grass to growing communities, such as Miami. Predictably, the Everglades began to dry up and probably would have dried totally, had it not been created a national park, dedicated as such in 1947 by President Harry Truman.

GREAT WHITE EGRET: Everglades National Park was the first such land mass ever established, for unlike its predecessors, the attraction of the park was not grand vistas, such as in Glacier or the Grand Canyon, but rather it was established to protect a biological resource, such as this egret.

Problems, however, for the Everglades were not over. Now developers wanted to create the world’s largest airport with a runway that would stopped virtually all water from reaching this 1,500,000 acre park.

Happily, in 1974 the jetport project died on the desk of Richard Nixon, dramatizing that whatever Nixon’s foibles his environmental achievements rank high. His administration also established Big Cypress National Preserved in 1974, which is contiguous with the Everglades, and today, the Everglades have a modicum of protection.

Saving the Everglades was only one of his achievements, but because of his determination, egrets and herons have rebounded. So, too, have alligator and the incredible holes they muscle out.

ANHINGA TRAIL: In one short walk you can see the effects of gator holes. Here, Taylor Slough is crossed by the Anhinga Trail, and though man-made borrow pits have created in effect a huge gator hole, still the effect is the same.

Like real gator holes, the pits replicate the reservoirs of water so desperately required by fish, birds and alligators. Because Wood Storks feed on fish concentrated in the gator holes, their nesting season is keyed to this time of plenty in the winter. In summer, the rainy season, water floods the gator holes and disperses fish, making it much more difficult to obtain food for the young.

The result is that this short half-mile walk may provide one of the nation’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Sure you can find gator holes throughout the Everglades, but they don’t have elevated walks that take you above all the alligators. What’s more, the walk enables you to approach birds more easily, as Janie has done with this cormorant. Cormorants have a hook on the tip of their beaks and that feature provides the quickest means of differentiating them from Anhingas.

ANHINGA: The trail is named for the Anhinga, a species that has no oil glands. As a result, it can swim under water and with its stiletto-shaped bill, spear small sunfish, one of the three species typically found in gator holes. Watching such birds search out their prey is another of the exhilarating experiences now enjoyed in the Everglades, and I’m delighted I wrote Senator Mike Mansfield so long ago.

Though my one small letter amounted to little, it certainly made me feel as though I have some stake in the future of this incredible biological preserve, and Janie and I both wish we could do a little more.

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