Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
The Big Cypress Swamp of southwest Florida is basically a flat, gently sloping limestone plain. During the rainy season (June through September), water flows slowly southward over this plain into the mangrove swamps bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Water also flows below ground through the porous underlying limestone.
In places, limestone has dissolved, forming elongated sloughs or channels, which have accumulated deep organic soils. These channels or sloughs have been colonized by cypress and other trees, creating swamp forests that stand out on the horizon in contrast to the open prairies and pinelands that occupy the sterile veneer of marl soil, which is on top of the remaining limestone. The local term for these linear swamps is "strand."
Fakahatchee Strand is a 75,000-acre wilderness area. Limited access, limited facilities. The wilderness character of the area and the diverse plant and animal life found within the Fakahatchee Strand are what attracts visitors that are seeking an out of the way, beyond the usual type of outdoor experience. Along W. J. Janes Scenic drive are located several old logging roads which visitors are welcome to walk on. Much of the areas natural attractions can be seen along these roads. The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk located along US 41 is popular with visitors who aren't as adventurous about getting into the wilderness. It offers a half-mile long boardwalk, with interpretive signage, that goes into an original growth cypress forest. Some of the Cypress tress in this area are 6 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall.
Fakahatchee Strand does not have a visitor center, picnic areas, camping or concession facilities. A small map and brochures are available at the Copeland administrative office, just outside near the parking lot, and also at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The park does offer guided swampwalks November through February, and guided canoe trips will be offered this season. There are approximately 60 miles of hiking opportunities within the Fakahatchee Strand. A brochure specific to these trails will be available in the near future.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park - History
Through out time there has been human activity and occupation within the Fakahatchee Strand. During prehistoric periods of lower sea levels, when water was in short supply on the peninsula, the sinkholes were very often a focus of activity for Paleo-Indian (ca. 12,000 BC to 6500 BC) and Early Archaic (ca. 6500 BC to 5000 BC) peoples. From about 500 BC to European contact people of the Circum-Glades culture were prevalent in the area.
Throughout the history of the Glades Culture the basic subsistence pattern of hunting, gathering and fishing seems to have persisted. While other Florida cultures to the north gradually made the transition to agriculture production, people of the Circum-Glades area remained relatively unchanged for about two thousand years. Not only did their subsistence pattern endure, but also their technology changed very little over this long time span.
At the southern tip of the preserve, on a point where the Fakahatchee River and East River empty into the Fakahatchee Bay are the remains of an early pioneer settlement known as Daniel’s Point. This is where John Daniels raised his family and scratched out a living from the early 1900s to the 1940s. Directly across Fakahatchee Bay from Daniels Point existed a settlement of several families on Fakahatchee Island. The settlement was large enough to support its own school. This is where the Daniels’ children went to school.
Beginning in the early 1940s the logging of cypress trees became prevalent in the Big Cypress Swamp. During the period between the early 1940s to the late 1950s the Fakahatchee Strand was also logged for its valuable bald cypress trees. The C.J. Jones Logging Co. was one of the companies involved in this endeavor. Cypress logging was very successful and profitable until the late 1950s. Today remnants of the old logging rail beds (ie.trams) are used as access and hiking trails within the swamp.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park - FAQ's
Which trails are the best for hiking?
For first time visitors to the Fakahatchee Strand that would like to “dry hike” we recommend Gate #7 (West Main Tram), and Gate #12 (East Main Tram). Both are ideal to view the cypress mixed hardwood swamp, and you may see wildlife such as bobcats, otters, whitetail deer, and alligators. Of course many of the rare and endangered plants are also viewable from these trails.
What is the best time of year to see the native orchids?
Different species of orchids bloom at different times of the year. Generally, November through February are the best months, and the most comfortable to be in the swamp. We recommend that you make reservations for one of our guided swampwalks to get the best information about the area.
All text and information courtesy of Florida Division of Recreation and Parks & Photographs by Steve Giguere