The wonderful ecosystem we call the “Everglades” is in fact a very slow-moving river. This is a one-of-a-kind area of the world and, because it is mostly protected from urban development and growth, it is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the state, although it covers a very large chunk.
Indeed, the Everglades ecosystem begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.
The Everglades experience a wide range of weather patterns, from frequent flooding in the wet season to drought in the dry season, all swings which are normal and part of natural cycles. Unfortunately, throughout the 20th century, the Everglades suffered significant loss of habitat and environmental degradation. There is good news, though. In recent decades, the Everglades ecosystem has received more and more attention, leading to more efforts to help and restore this wonderful natural treasure.
The Everglades are unique and important for many different reasons:
They are part of a massive water “filtration and storage” system
They support several smaller ecosystems (like SIX!!!)
Freshwater sloughs and marl prairies
Tropical hardwood hammocks
Cypress and mangrove
Marine and estuarine
They provide a brilliant opportunity for us residents to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature
So where did the name come from?
The Seminole call it Pahokee, meaning "Grassy Water," and a map from the U.S. military from as late as 1839 labels it "Pa-hai-okee." (We still call it by its second name, “The River of Grass”). However, the first written record of the area was on Spanish maps made by cartographers who had not seen the land. They named the unknown area between the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida Laguna del Espíritu Santo ("Lake of the Holy Spirit"), and this “Laguna del Espíritu Santo” or Pahokee remained unexplored for decades, even though it continued to appear on maps.
British surveyor John Gerard de Brahm, who mapped the coast of Florida in 1773, called the area "River Glades". Both Marjory Stoneman Douglas and linguist Wallace McMullen suggest that it was cartographers who substituted "Ever" for "River". The name "Everglades" first appeared on a map in 1823, although it was also spelled as "Ever Glades" (two words) as late as 1851.
How Can You Get There?
First, take a look at the National Park System’s website. They have a page dedicated to Everglades National Park. (Remember: The National Park is only a part of the full ecosystem, and all of it needs care and protection).
From Broward County (Greater Fort Lauderdale) there are several ways in which you can explore the Everglades. We encourage all of them! Start by visiting our friends and partners pages below:
Jump on a swamp buggy and see the Everglades almost as they were when people still called them Pahokee. For this, you will need to visit the wonderful Billie Swap Safari.
You can trek across parts of the Everglades…. ON FOOT! Yes, you read that right. Take a tour with the trained guides at Everglades Day Safari.
Wild Lime Adventures will bring you on a "Swamp Walk" with a naturalist, giving you a real, "National Geographic-like" experience!
Finally, you can take a walk along the many trails, levees and berms that separate our cities from the Everglades. For example: walk along the trails that start at the western end of Atlantic Blvd. in Coral Springs: Atlantic Trail Head
As we discussed above, there are a few ways to experience the Florida Everglades, but none like “flying” aboard an airboat. Every airboat is piloted by a highly trained captain, who takes you on thrilling rides, going from top speeds of over 30 mph (miles per hour) to a complete drift, following the water’s current.
During the tours, the captains tell you tons of fun facts about this impressive ecosystem while you take in the exciting sights. In that way, an airboat captain takes you on an unbelievable ride while giving you ideas about how you can help our Everglades, too.