It's often said that there is no other place in the world like Florida's Everglades. Despite man's best efforts, the 'glades endure as one of the world's most widely recognized sources of biodiversity and an example of the fragile nature of human/ecological relations.
The Everglades remain something of a mysterious concept to a fair number of Floridians and tourists alike. The 14th annual Everglades Day family festival this Saturday at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is an easy (and fun) opportunity to get face to face with the reality. The Refuge is about 10 miles west of Boynton Beach.
Here are six reasons to make a point of heading out on Saturday to participate in the festivities:
1.) Cool animals: In addition to the plethora of native, wild animals (like alligators, wading birds, lizards, turtles, etc.) who call the refuge home, educators and wildlife rehabilitators will be on-hand with live "guest" animals, including rescued and rehabbed reptiles, birds of prey (like the photogenic owl pictured above), insects, and other critters. Getting to see animals up close and personal is a nice way to augment the sometimes-challenging experience of spotting them out and about in the refuge.
2.) Lessons on invasive species: The road to hell is paved with good intentions and a fair number of the exotic, invasive species choking out Florida's native wildlife found their way into the ecosystem by innocent means (such as home owners planting beautiful exotic flowering shrubs in their yards to attract butterflies, etc.). Throughout the day, experts will give presentations on how to identify and eradicate various invasive species. Be certain to stop by the booth operated by Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management. ERM will be handing out native seedlings and providing tips on how to remove exotics. (Disclosure: I occasionally volunteer for the ERM's cleanup and native planting activities.)
3.) Informative guest presentations: Florida journalist Ron Wiggins, who penned "Florida Authentica," will give a 1 p.m. presentation titled "We Owe the Monorail Dreamers a Big One." Meanwhile, Everglades ecologists and refuge manager Sylvia Pelizza will give an update on the Everglades' health during a panel discussion scheduled for noon.
4.) Kids' activities aplenty: Obviously, a wildlife refuge filled with alligators and various snakes is no place to let loose a young child, but there are plenty of family-friendly -- and free -- ways to entertain the kids. Topping the list of fun things for the young ones are fishing clinics scheduled for 9 and 10 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m. at the fishing pier. The "animal Olympics trail" and designated children's area are other safe bets.
5.) Canoe rides and nature walks: Any day is a good day to explore the refuge, but Saturday comes with extra built-in opportunities. For a different -- and in a lot of ways, more exciting -- look at things, take advantage of the canoe trips offered every half hour at the boat ramp (sign-up is near the bus parking lot). The boat trips are open to those six years and older. On (somewhat) dry land, there are numerous bird, butterfly, and nature walks offered throughout the day. Soak up someone else's knowledge by joining in on an educational meander around the park, led by people who know what they are talking about.
6.) Aesthetics: Florida's beaches get a lot of credit for their natural beauty, and rightly so, but the stunning vistas at Loxahatchee are nothing to sneeze at. Sunrise and sunset at the refuge are particularly beguiling, with hundreds of birds taking to the sky for the morning fly-out and evening fly-in: It's something that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. But no matter the time of day, it pays to stop and take a look around at something so uniquely Florida.
Everglades Day is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There's no cost to attend. Parking is offered off-grounds just south of the refuge (follow the signs). Buses will run between the parking and refuge throughout the day with the last bus leaving the refuge at 4:30 p.m. For a full schedule of events, click here.