Monthly Archives: September 2015

Something to be Saved: Big Cypress National Preserve


Wetlands of Big Cypress National Park

In our last two weeks on this trip, we’ve climbed mountains and hiked valleys and seen some of the most beautiful places our nation has to offer.  Beautiful- and conventional.  This week, things are changing a bit.  As we wrap up our long drive from Ohio, our stop is at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.  But don’t expect any mountains or bike trails here; in fact, I suggest you turn in your hiking boots for a pair of muck boots and pants you’re willing to get pretty wet.

So far, I’ve introduced you to two parks that were deemed worthy of preserving for their contribution to the landscape of our country.  Protected by the National Park Service, these areas are subject to public access and use.  The National Park Service administers the Congressional laws and protections to several areas however, including parks, forests, monuments, and preserves.  Big Cypress, a National Preserve established in 1974, differs from a park in that it has far less strict legal protections- allowing hunting, oil exploration, and some off-road vehicles.

Slightly smaller than one of the parks, Big Cypress has plenty to offer us in our search for discovery in America’s beautiful park system.  Unlike so many parks along the east coast, its main allure lies not in its traditional forest atmosphere but in its unique environment of its own.  An offshoot of the famous Florida Everglades, Big Cypress offers a smaller and less tourist-heavy view into the renowned wetlands of Florida.

Rock_outcroppings_in_the_prairie_north_of_Concho_Billy_Trail,_in_Big_Cypress_National_PreserveIf you’ve never been to the wetlands before, it can certainly be an adjustment from the pine-needle lined paths of deciduous forests.  In a “freshwater swamp ecosystem,” terrain is far less predictable than your typical forest.  A good first introduction into these new surroundings of this area would be the scenic drive around the park, which offers an overarching view of everything there is to see while you’re there.  Both the Turner Road and Loop Road weave through and around the park area and will give you an orientation to the exciting new views in Big Cypress.  Take notice of the trees that give this place its name and the large population of birds to observe.  Watch how the swamp spreads as far as the eye can see.

Everglades_National_Park_Florida_PantherBut what is waiting within?  Well, the wildlife of the preserve give it some of its most notable features.  Avoid the alligators as you explore that waters of the lands and you just might get a chance to see the critically endangered Florida panther that calls this place home.  With only 100-180 of this species remaining in the wild, even a brief glimpse of one in its safest habitat is an opportunity to embrace.  The wetlands that the Florida panther calls home have disappeared at an alarming rate in the recent years (losing 260,000 acres of wetlands between 1985 and 1996) and as they did, populations of species like the Florida Panther and many types of waterfowl lost their home.  As we adventure, it is important to remember that these places aren’t being conserved merely for their beauty- sometimes conservation is a matter of life and death.  So keep an eye out for all the species that are being saved while we visit; there is much to be saved beyond beauty.

There is no question that Big Cypress National Preserve is vastly different from previous parks we’ve visited.  It may not have gorgeous sunrises or waterfalls, but I hope you’ve come to see that there is plenty more out there than wooded pathways.  Let’s keep the Florida panther and it’s wetland home safe for years to come!

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A Little Escape: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

1-1250893099-cuyahoga-valley-national-park-entranceAfter a humbling sunrise witnessed on the rocky coast of Maine, this week our road trip takes us a little south to the lovely state of Ohio.  I know, Ohio is renowned for its bland landscape, frigid cities, and raging sports fans, but today we venture to the softer side of Ohio: it’s beautiful landscape.  Located a mere 27 minute drive from the city of Cleveland and tucked along the Cuyahoga River is our destination: Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

This welcome little haven away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city is a natural next stop on the tour of the National Parks.  Everyone knows about Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, but it can be easy to forget that our nation has many wonders hidden where you least expect them: namely, under thirty minutes away from the home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The valley has been celebrated for recreational potential for hundreds of years, but it first gained wide attention in 1925 when the Olmstead Brothers landscape architecture firm conducted a study to discover the potential of the park’s offerings.   In their words, “it is in the valley that one can realize most effectively a sense of isolation and freedom from the sights and sounds of all the multitude of circumstances which go to make the modern city—and when all is said and done that is the justifying purpose of a country park.”  Even then, when the cities were only beginning to develop, people realized that a secluded area away from all the action was something to be valued.  Over time, countless numbers of conservationists fought hard to protect the area from expansion and pollution until it was declared a National Recreation Area in 1974.

The path was never easy for the little Cuyahoga Valley.  But as we pull in to the park, past the unobtrusive sign mounted on the brick stand, it is immediately clear why the land is worth saving.  There’s something about undisturbed forest that invites exploration.  According to the National Park Service, many of the park’s best features make for excellent day trips, so let’s hop out of the car and get going!


Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga National Park

If you’re in for a decent hike, we should head over to the Brandywine Falls, a 65 foot tall waterfall nestled into the little valley of the park.  We can take a look at these gorgeous falls from lower and upper observation decks, and if we’re looking to see the park further, we can hike the Brandywine Gorge Trail.  This winds down the valley around the falls, offering you interesting new views of the surroundings.

If you’re into a more historic adventure, we can hop on board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and ride around the valley.  Imagine being a within half an hour of a major city, riding on a train through beautiful wilderness.  What else could you want?

There’s something to be said of escaping an every day life in favor of a more austere environment.  By conserving these little havens away from our urban lives, we get to save a little bit of history- of times past.  We still get to enjoy the sounds of crashing waterfalls, running streams, and falling leaves.  Taking advantage of this luxury is something we simply must do.  What are you wasting your time doing?  Find one of these parks, head out there now, and start adventuring!

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Taking Notice: Acadia National Park

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at Acadia National Park

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at Acadia National Park

There’s something about running water, hiking trails, and mountains that sets my heart on fire. Ever since I was little, I could leave no stream without putting my bare feet in; I couldn’t walk past a rock without climbing it to see what it looked like from the top. A Girl Scout and an avid camper, nature has always been an important part of how I see the world. But as I sit here writing this, a college student of nineteen, I’m keenly aware of how much more adventure is out there. I am surrounded on a daily basis by opportunities for conservation and appreciation of nature and yet, sometimes, I choose to ignore it. And so, as I take you with me on my feature of the National Parks, let’s see what we can learn about all there is out there to witness outside of our own little world.

Our first visit will take us northeast onto the rocky coast of Maine to Acadia National Park. In the past, this seashore played home to Native Americans, French Settlers, and Rockefellers alike, but today is serves as a haven for conservation and majesty unparalleled by any shore you’ve ever seen. Back in 1916, conservation spokesman George B. Dorr made the effort to protect Acadia from human expansion and industry and it has remained, ever since, a prized gem of the American landscape. But why should all this matter? Well, let’s see for ourselves.

Acadia is celebrated for its “multi-seasonal” ability to invite adventure. In one visit you could visit a lighthouse, go bouldering, hiking up trails, or take to the seashore.  Even if deep wilderness adventuring isn’t for you, Acadia also has a network of carriage roads that offer a peaceful and historic walk through the park without the tougher trails.  Truly, there is something here for everyone.

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

But whether you’re a nature lover like me or just someone who wants to get away, a must do on any trip to Acadia is to visit the highest mountain on the Atlantic coast- Cadillac Mountain. According to the National Park Service, on certain days of the year, you can be the first person in the United States to see the sunrise if you climb to the top early in the morning. 1,528 feet above sea level, you can stand there and experience the sun greeting the coast for the very first time.  Why should it matter if you have to get up at about 4 am to do it?  Get out your hiking boots because this is the chance of a lifetime!

It is for experiences like this that the National Parks cannot be discounted. In our fast-paced lives it can become so easy to forget our surroundings. When’s the last time you watched the sunrise or took notice of the way a river catches the light? We don’t do this often enough!  Eventually, we’ve all got to learn to take notice. Wake up early every once in a while and appreciate the world around you; don’t be so consumed in your own life that you turn down a chance to adventure deeper into the world.  And visit Acadia National Park!  Who wouldn’t want a chance to see that mountain, that seashore, and that sunrise for themselves?
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