Big Cypress National Preserve

A treasure beyond the trees and home to the Florida panther and ghost orchid

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With dark skies and a bright future, Big Cypress National Preserve is possibly the greatest hidden gem found in Florida.

Most people only see Big Cypress National Park through the windows of their car as they zip along I-75 or U.S. 41, a parallax of sawgrass and cypress trees against the billowy clouds of the Florida sky. Some even stop by the visitor center out of curiosity, but mostly only out of necessity.

In 1974, Congress established the Big Cypress National Preserve as a national preserve – not a national park – a distinction that allows traditional activities such as hunting and Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use to continue within the preserve’s boundaries. With 729,000 acres, Big Cypress offers an enticing oasis for recreation and sport, but this land is also a key player in keeping the various natural water systems of South Florida balanced.

Big Cypress is a haven for Florida’s elusive, but endangered panther population, a homestead for the endangered American alligator and is only one of two places on Earth where the ghost orchid can be found. An official Dark Sky Place, Big Cypress is the first National Park Service unit east of Colorado to earn this designation and to this day still remains the southernmost Dark Sky Place in Florida – and in the US.

The swamp waters move gently through this national preserve, providing the perfect combination for the preserve’s namesake cypress trees to grow tall and strong, creating a maze beneath their canopy for the visitors who are more inclined toward aquatic adventures.

Big Cypress represents one of the last wild places in South Florida where swamp buggies, airboats, and backcountry camps preserve a traditional way of life established by native peoples and the pioneering spirit of early settlers. To say that Big Cypress has something for everyone would be an understatement, so now we are challenging everyone to offer something back to Big Cypress in return.

Current Areas of Support & Allyship

Education: Swamp Water and Me Program

This impactful sixth grade curriculum-based program introduces public and private school students within Collier County to the Big Cypress swamp.

The program fosters an appreciation and promotes their understanding of the watershed’s role in the greater Everglades ecosystem. Students learn about the watershed, associated habitats, and understand the importance of the freshwater swamp to the estuary below.

The goals of the program are to provide students with hands-on, interdisciplinary, and curriculum-based field experience that aligns to Florida Sunshine State Standards; and to give students a clearer understanding of their connections and responsibilities to the natural world so that they may become better-informed citizens, community leaders, and stewards of the fragile and unique environment of South Florida.

Through our support, this program will enable the preserve to connect to underserved communities for first-time experiences in nature, hands-on interdisciplinary science and discovery, and gain Science Technology and Math (STEM) skills. The immersive and inquiry-based learning style of the program leads to lifelong transformational change, stewardship, and a new environmental ethic.

The program has a 20-year reputation for success and leads the region in environmental education.

Preservation & Protection: Python Tracking and Research

The Big Cypress python program focuses on field research to improve management tools for controlling Burmese pythons on the preserve.

This program uses a team of radio transmitted adult pythons, distributed throughout Big Cypress, to learn about their behavior in hopes of improving methods for removing them from the wild. This involves labor-intensive fieldwork that is centered around the python breeding season from December through March.

Some of the goals for the upcoming breeding season include: rebuilding and maintaining our team of radio transmitted male pythons, starting a team of radio transmitted female pythons and beginning field testing of a prototype trap design that is field packable.

Preservation & Protection: Cal Stone Backcountry Campsite

In 1992, Calvin R. Stone donated his private camp within Big Cypress to the National Park Service.  Mr. Stone’s Camp is referred to as Cal Stones camp.

From 1999 -2000, Big Cypress completed a thorough historic restoration of the camp and transformed the camp from its state of disrepair to a useable backcountry site where the NPS could officially operate while respecting the camp’s historic appearance pedigree.

Twenty years later, we are dedicated to preserving this backcountry time capsule and ensuring that this site receives the improvements it needs, including roof repairs, painting, bear-proof storage, non-historic building demolition and haul-out – to keep this a habitable hideaway that all can enjoy.

Restoration: Forest Recovery

South Florida claims extensive areas of recuperating forest that were heavily logged in the 19th and 20th centuries, including bald cypress tracts in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Since that time, Big Cypress has been subject to numerous natural and anthropogenic disturbances, including fire and hurricane activity.

This project will implement a pilot study of forest recovery in secondary cypress forest by conducting rapid vegetation inventories in logged and unlogged areas of the Roberts Lake Strand located to the south of Tamiami Trail in Collier County.

Six cypress domes will be selected for the survey. The information collected will not only provide a baseline of secondary forest recovery but also provide a historic framework that can be used to educate the public about cultural and historic management practices in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“I want people to get what Florida is all about, the relationship of the trees and the plants and sky and the water. It’s an emotional feeling of being primeval.”

Clyde Butcher, famed photographer and Big Cypress enthusiast