The Florida Everglades is a subtropical marshland located in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, specifically in parts of Monroe, Collier, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties. Although much modified by agricultural development in central and southern Florida, the Everglades is the southern half of a large watershed arising in the vicinity of Orlando as the Kissimmee River system. The Kissimmee—and flows from Taylor Creek, Nubbin Slough, and Fisheating Creek—discharges into Lake Okeechobee, a very large (730 mi² or 1,890 km²), shallow (10 ft or 3 m) fresh water lake. Water leaving Lake Okeechobee in the wet season forms the Everglades, an annual shallow, slow-moving flood at one time 40 miles wide and over 100 miles long moving southward across a nearly flat, limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.
The Everglades extends from Lake Okeechobee on the north to Florida Bay on the south and was once bordered by Big Cypress Swamp on the west and the Atlantic Coastal Ridge on the east. It has been called the River of Grass (Douglas, 1947) because of the slow flow of water from Okeechobee southward and the predominance of a sedge known as sawgrass. Slighty elevated points in this extremely flat area are covered with trees, usually cypress.
Some 50% of the original Everglades has been lost to agriculture. Most of the rest is now protected in a national park and water conservation areas. Water from the Everglades is still used as a water supply for major cities in the area, such as Miami. The Everglades is crossed from west to east by a toll road called "Alligator Alley", now part of Interstate 75.
There are several small outlets, such as the Miami River and the New River on the east and the Shark River on the southwest. There is a general south to southwesterly movement of surface water.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park preserves the southern portion of the Everglades (all south of Tamaimi Trail), but represents only 20 percent of the original wetland area. The Park covers 1.5 million acres (6,000km²) and is a World Heritage Site. The only highway access is the State Road 9336, running 38 miles (61km) from Florida City to the coast at Flamingo. Excluding the main visitor center and some smaller park facilities, there is no development in the park.
There are a number of car parks and trails within the Park, of which the most famous is the Anhinga trail. This trail allows very close approach to birds such as herons and anhinga. The latter birds often perch on the rails of the boardwalk.
The soil of the islands is very fertile and is subject to frequent inundations, but gradually the water area is being replaced by land. The vegetation is luxuriant, the live oak, wild lemon, wild orange, cucumber, pawpaw, custard apple and wild rubber trees being among the indigenous species; there are, besides, many varieties of wild flowers, the orchids being especially noteworthy. There are two seasons, wet and dry, but the climate is equable.
Specialities of the park include the Short-tailed Hawk and Smooth-billed Ani, and the Caribbean Flamingo at its only regular North American mainland site, usually near the town of Flamingo. Other wading birds such as herons, egrets, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and ibises are abundant. Limpkins can also be found in the Everglades.
For much of its history, systematic exploration of the Everglades was prevented by the dense growth of saw-grass (Cladium jamaicense), a sedge with very sharp saw-toothed leaves. The first Europrean to enter the region was Escalente de Fontenada, a Spanish captive of an Indian chief, who named a lake, Laguno del Espiritu Santo, and some islands, Cayos del Espiritu Santo. Between 1841 and 1856 various United States military forces penetrated the Everglades for the purpose of attacking and driving out the Seminoles, who took refuge here. The most important explorations during the later years of the 19th century were those of Major Archie P. Williams in 1883, James E. Ingraham in 1892, and Hugh L. Willoughby in 1897. The Seminole Indians were thene practically the only inhabitants.
In 1850 under the Arkansas Bill, or Swamp and Overflow Act, practically all of the Everglades, which the state had been urging the federal government to drain and reclaim, were turned over to the state for that purpose, with the provision that all proceeds from such lands be applied to their reclamation. A board of trustees for the Internal Improvement Fund, created in 1855 and having as members ex officio the governor, comptroller, treasurer, attorney-general and commissioner-general, sold and allowed to railway companies much of the grant. Between 1881 and 1896 a private company owning 4,000,000 acres (16,000km²) of the Everglades attempted to dig a canal from Lake Okeechobee through Lake Hicpochee and along the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico; the canal was closed in 1902 by overflows. Six canals were begun under state control in 1905 from the lake to the Atlantic, the northernmost at Jensen, the southernmost at Ft. Lauderdale; the total cost, estimated at $1,035,000 for the reclamation of 12,500 m², was raised by a drainage tax, not to exceed ten cents per acre ($24.71/km²), levied by the trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund and Board of Drainage commissioners.
The publication in 1947 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Everglades: River of Grass was as electrifying an event among naturalists as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. It drew attention to the vast area that makes South Florida habitable but was being treated by agricultural interests and housing developers as a worthless swamp that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would profitably be able to drain. It galvanized President Harry S. Truman's executive order later that year to protect more than 2 million acres (8,000km²) as Everglades National Park.
The strength of Mrs. Douglas' name was such that when legislation designed by lawyers representing the sugar growers' industry proposed to suspend all water quality standards in the Everglades for twelve years, it was named the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act" — until the 103-year old author demanded that her name be removed from the pending bill. It still passed in 1994, renamed the "Everglades Forever Act", and was amended in 2000.
The Florida courts had imposed a plan to reduce damaging phosphate levels in the park's waters to below 10 parts per billion by 2006. The phosphate derives from fertilizer used by sugarcane growers. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has now put the date back to 2016. Judge William Hoeveler, who was overseeing the cleanup, has been removed following legal action by US Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Florida.
The Everglades also face an ongoing threat from the melaleuca tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia). Sprinkled from airplanes using salt and pepper shakers, the tiny seeds of the thirsty tree were intended to suck up the water and make the "land" of the Everglades suitable for development. The tree remains a useless invasive species. The oils in the trees are also highly flammable, leading to increased danger from wildfires.