On this Date: Taken from “No Everglades Here, Folks”

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a Press Club of Southwest Florida Newsletter from January 1998 written by David Pfaff. For us to move forward we must remember where we have been. On This Date is a fun way for NPC members to find out about the Press Club of Southwest Florida’s past.

With all the enthusiasm and community boosterism in Collier County over the 50thanniversary of the creation of Everglades National Park – even a Vick Presidential visit – it’s too bad there are no Everglades in Collier County.

Why, we’ve got “Everglades City!” How could we not have any Everglades?

As far as the city name is concerned, we have Everglades City because “Ten Thousand Islands City” is not nearly as euphonious, although it is more accurate as a descriptor of its geographic location. And “Everglades City” is a “modern” name … the community started as “Allen’s Place.”

The problem begins in that the popular concept of the Everglades doesn’t match the reality. The Seminole Indians were closest to the reality with the name, “The River of Grass.” Marjory Stoneman Douglas taught us that.

The reality is that Lake Okeechobee – as it was naturally, not as the Corps of Engineers may now have altered it – has low southern rim that is easily overflowed by the waters coming into it from the Kissimmee River Basin to its north and other tributaries. Further, this rim is not cracked by natural outlets – what we might call rivers or creeks.

Because the topography of South Florida is obviously very flat, the lake’s water overflows its low southern rim like your kitchen sink overflows onto the counter if you leave the tap turned on. Since there are no outlets in which the water is channelized, it flows across the natural grade of the land in a sheet, not in streams, just as in your kitchen disaster. That sheet flow is shallow but wide and meanders across treeless prairies of sawgrass broken only by occasional hammocks of palms.

As you drive west of U.S. 27 on either Alligator Alley or U.S. 41, look around you. That’s the Everglades: a river of grass, a sheet flow of water across a wide, open prairie.

When you get 30 or so miles farther west, the vista radically and abruptly changes. You encounter a wall of trees creating an obvious north-south boundary. That’s the edge of the Everglades, and it is coincident with the Collier County border with Broward and Dade Counties.

There are no Everglades in Collier County.

Not even the Feds – the National Park Service – claim there to be. When they began to acquire eastern and central Collier County for preservation, they did it not as an extension of the Everglades National Park, but as a new, “Big Cypress Preserve.” Because that’s its terrain: Big Cypress Swamp, not Everglades.

The Big Cypress tends to be high, dry (relatively) pine lands, mixed with seasonally wet cypress forests, some sawgrass and other terrain. And it’s obviously, radically different looking than the Everglades.

(Of course, if you were raised on the Hollywood-ish impression of the Everglades being an Amazonian jungle with pythons draped out of trees, you wouldn’t realize the difference anyway!)

South of U.S. 41, all these terrains merge into the Mangrove island eco-system known as the Ten Thousand Islands, which distinguishes the Southwest Florida coastline from the beaches that demark the peninsula from the sea most other places The Ten Thousand Islands begin essentially at Doctor’s Pass in Naples and head southeastward to Cape Florida at the peninsula’s southern-most tip. Marco Island is the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands.

But when the Park was being created 50 years ago, Collier County had Everglades City, the headquarters of the Collier family who was being asked to be a land contributor to the new enterprise; Flamingo couldn’t compete with downtown Everglades City for facilities and romance and, it was thought that a park entrance at Everglades City would be a tourism boom for the community, which had few other prospects except fishing and life as the county seat.

So Everglades City became adjacent to Everglades National Park by way of the Ten Thousands Islands, not through the Everglades. It was officially designated the “Western Water Gateway to the Everglades National Park,” a tip-off, by the way, that it was not part of the Everglades since it was the “water gateway.”

But little followed to realize the dream of a tropical clone of Gatlinburg. The Park Service preferred Flamingo as the principal entry because it lies wholly within the Park, giving it total control of what happens there. At Everglades, free enterprise and local government compete with Park Service desires and plans. As a result, the “Western Water Gateway” access promised by the Park Service was slow to develop, while Flamingo blossomed.

Plus, the folks at Everglades City have never easily come to a common mind about this whole thing, anyway. But, that’s another story.

Like that there’s no Everglades at Everglades City or in Collier County.

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