Our last day at the Everglades. Even though it seems like we’ve been here for a long time, I didn’t think too much about leaving throughout the week and now it seems to be coming up very suddenly!
We spent our rec day touring the park, going to all of the neat places we’d passed without visiting on our way to work. After admiring a mahogany hammock, full of interesting plants and skinks and tree snails, we met with a park ranger to go on a “slough slog” (that’s pronounced “sloo slog”), an off-trail hike into the sawgrass prairie.
It’s still the dry season, so there wasn’t too much mud in the prairie, but in the wet season it sometimes floods almost up to the road. The ranger showed us the dried paraphyten, clumps of algae that help keep water in the ecosystem during the dry season, and he told us about how the sharp sawgrass has blades not to protect it from predators (there aren’t many grazers in the park) but to help collect the dew that forms on the grass in the mornings and channel the water down to the plants‘ roots.
Next the ranger led us into a cypress hammock. It was much cooler than the hot prairie. We decided to walk silently for a while and all we could hear as we walked it was the breeze blowing through the trees and the chirping of a red-shouldered hawk flying overhead. It was like walking into another world. The tall, skinny cypress trees were covered with beautiful air plants, and the ranger led us to a huge clump of wild orchid. In the center of the hammock there was an alligator hole, complete with an alligator and a bunch of her babies. We also spotted a few cottonmouths (and made sure to keep our distance from them!)
After leaving the cypress hammock we spent a few hours relaxing, having lunch, and playing frisbee near the Pa-Hay-Okee boardwalk, and then we headed back to the Flamingo area. But instead of going back to camp, we went to the Marina and hopped on a pontoon boat for a tour of the Buttonwood Canal and the mangrove forests, where we saw lots of crocodiles. It was wonderful to relax on the boat after a week of hard work!
After our last meal together, we gathered around a campfire for some closing games and talked about what the experience taught us. It was great to hear everyones’ perspectives on the week and I know that this week has made a positive impact on all of us. At the same time, I think that we also made a great positive impact on the Everglades – we helped the people who visit the park by making the campsites beautiful, and we helped the environment of the park by ridding it of some of its invasive plants.
In a time where it seems like people are becoming more and more disconnected with nature, it makes me happy to see that groups like our Alternate Spring Break crew can come together to make a difference for a beautiful, valuable place like the Everglades and I hope that we’ll be able to inspire others to do the same. It was sad to leave, but I know I’ll be back some day to admire the campsites we cleaned and the habitats we restored!