One of the great dualities of Florida is the presence of spectacular natural places and wildlife within easy striking distance of the most people-packed urban areas. And Everglades National Park – covering more than 1.5 million acres in South Florida – is as off-the-charts-wild as U.S. parks get. While the most remote areas of the park are largely inaccessible, there are plenty of spots within a stone’s throw ofMiami and Naples (around the small towns of Florida City and Everglades City) where you can get a real feel for the “River of Grass.”
The Everglades was originally given protected status in 1947 in order to preserve its extreme biodiversity, and the vast sub-tropical wilderness here continues to flourish as a habitat for alligators, Florida panthers, manatees and crocodiles as well as hundreds of species of plants and birds. For one of the wildest Florida escapes, this is the place.
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Over the past few years, it has become a tradition for the National Park Service to waive entry fees into the national parks several times a year. Those fee free days have become extremely popular with frugal travelers, who take advantage of the lack of an entry fee to enjoy some of the best natural wonders that America has to offer.
Earlier this month the Park Service announced their fee free days for 2011, giving us all a number of great opportunities to enjoy “America’s Best Idea” on the cheap. Several of those days, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday weekend, have already slipped by, but here are the remaining fee free days for the year.
• April 16-24 (National Park Week)
• June 21 (First day of summer)
• September 24 (Public Lands Day)
• November 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend)
In all, there are 14 days remaining in 2011 during which you can gain entry into more than 100 national parks for free. To see a complete list of which parks will be waiving their entry fee on those days click here.
Knowing the available dates well in advance allows us to plan ahead and select which parks we would most like to visit during the fee free days. For example, in April many of the parks are still on the cool side, but it is an excellent time to visit Big Bend in Texas, before it becomes too hot. The first day of summer seems the perfect excuse to drop into Denali, located in Alaska, while September is great for visiting Yellowstone. As for November, how about stopping by the Everglades for one last tropical escape before the winter snows start to fly across much of the country.
Whether they’re free or not, the national parks are fantastic destinations all year round. But it never hurts to get something for free!
Yesterday we told you how the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, aka UNESCO, had granted several new sites “World Heritage” status at their recent meeting held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. That same group also moved two other sites to their endangered list in a move that typically serves as a warning about the future health of those locations.
Returning to the endangered list this year is the Florida Everglades, which were first cited back in 1993 and remained on the list until 1997 due to damage sustained during Hurricane Andrew. The sub-tropical wilderness is the largest of its kind in the United States, but is degrading rapidly, thanks to the loss of more than 60% of its water inflow. The committee also noted that increased levels of pollution is causing the water in the Everglades to become toxic, killing, or driving off, large numbers of marine life that once lived in the area as well.
Also added to the endangered list this year are the rain forests of Atsinanana, located in Madagascar. In this case, the World Heritage Committee cited the illegal logging operations that continue to go on there, as well as the hunting of an endangered species of lemurs, as causes for concern for the future of that natural environment.
Being put on the endangered list is not necessarily a bad thing for these World Heritage Sites. In the past, such a designation has brought a great deal of attention and focus to the problems at those locations, allowing governments to clean them up and keep them better protected for future generations to enjoy as well. Hopefully that will be the case in both of these cases as well.
[Photo credit: Moni3 via WikiMedia Commons]