Spring in the Big Cypress Swamp

Camp Six Pack is in a remote part of the Big Cypress Swamp. Its just about as far as you can get from a paved road in Florida.  Remote as it is, We still get drop in visitors. We don't mind honest people, that stop to look the camp over, maybe get a drink of water and then continue on their way. Be sure to stop by and say "Hello", when we are at camp.  In the early years we never even locked up the camp. Other nearby camp owners would stop by to borrow something and return it when they were done with it. We had one nearby camp owner that was especially fond of Vodka and if he ran out in his camp, he would come and borrow ours. He always returned it, usually in a bigger bottle then he borrowed. We never had a problem with that. It is our bond with the sportsmen, that if they need something to help them get out of the swamp, they are welcome to it, just let us know and return it on the next trip.

Over the last years there have been a few items borrowed that never found their way back to us. For months after we saw something missing, we expected to see the item returned on our next trip. A few items have not been seen for more then few years and our expectation of seeing them again is gone. That does not change our bond with the sportsmen that need help and our policy is still the same. But, that being said, if you come to Camp Six Pack, smile you will be on candid camera. The pictures below, taken with our security cameras have intentionally been fuzzed, to protect the identity of the visitors in the picture. The cameras will not stop a problem, but Its a simple matter of taking the picture to the NPS and matching them up with the ORV driver license picture to identify the visitor. (I know of other camps that have better camera systems then ours). Welcome to the Big Cypress Swamp and enjoy it, but even when we are not there, we know when we have visitors, both people and other swamp critters.

ATC visitor to camp Six Pack
Visitor caught on Security Camera

Visitor caught on Security Camera
 Big Cypress Swamp Gator Hole
Gator hole in a cypress head
Cypress Dome alligator hole
The Big Cypress Swamp is in its dry stage right now, in fact it is suffering through one of the worst droughts we have had. As the waters recede in the swamp, alligators go to the low spots in the cypress heads and wallow out the mud, to create a water hole. Usually they visit the same spot year after year, which creates a gator hole, usually with a submerged tunnel in one of the banks. It is not unusually for a willow tree to grow in that spot. The roots holding the bank together as the gator creates a place of refuge in the bank.
Now you can look at this picture all you want for the gator, but the gator had gone into its submerged tunnel in the bank, as soon as it detected me. Nothing but bubbles and swirl in the water, letting me know he was there.  Here is a picture of another gator hole, with the gator visible. In the early 1980s, these gator holes also dried up and it was especially rough on the gator population at that time. Hopefully, this years drought will not get that bad for the gators, but South Florida is under strict water use restrictions right now and we could sure use some rain.

Airplane (Windmill) Prairie Permanent Swamp Buggy
It's been there a long time Baby. This abandoned swamp buggy has been sitting in this spot on the south end of Airplane prairie, for  longer then I have been going into the swamp. I first saw it about 1972 and it looked then, pretty much like it looks now.  Its cement hard airplane tires and iron frame and engine are not going anywhere. The window of opportunity to remove it is gone. The NPS has an aversion to cutting cypress trees, which have now grown up through it  and being located on a off limits prairie will prevent them from bring heavy equipment into play to remove it. So I would say, it is pretty much there permanently.
So why not leave it? Its gas and oil pollutants are long gone. Rust does not damage the environment. So leave it be, as a monument to those swamp rats that came before the forming of the preserve. Its only going to be seen in the future, by a few people with the tenacity to hike to the prairie, once the designated ORV trails are fully implemented.

Old Swamp Buggy at Airplane Prairie
Riding the Old Buggy
(These guys had to hike a long way to visit this buggy)
Big Cypress Ground Fog
Cabbage Palm & Cypress Tree in Prairie

Sunrise Ground Fog
An early morning arrival in the Big Cypress Swamp is rewarded with a view of low hanging ground fog. On an open prairie along US 41,  the day starts to shake the darkness of the night, this view rewarding the 4 a.m. wakeup. This is a view that does not take special equipment to see.  Just pull over on the side of the road an take a minute to enjoy it. As I stopped to enjoy the morning view, other vehicles whizzed by me along the Tamiami Trail (US 41). People too much in a hurry to start the days activities, this view if seen at all at 60 miles per hour, needs to be savored at a more relaxed pace.

A cabbage palm and a cypress tree, strange company in an open prairie, since one likes dry ground and the other likes wet ground. The seasons in the Big Cypress, both dry part of the year and wet the other part, provide enough of each for these to trees to occupy the same ground. Such is the ways of the Big Cypress Swamp.

The Big Cypress Addition Lands
The original (1971),Act of Congress that created the Big Cypress National Preserve, was amended in 1988, to include an additional 144,000 acres of land, to the Big Cypress National Preserve. The National Park Service is currently taking public comment on how this land will be managed, how Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) will be managed and if any of the land should be consider as "Wilderness" under terms of the "Wilderness Act". I include here a link to the alternatives being considered: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkId=352&projectId=11164&documentID=18675 .
I would hope that you would read the alternatives carefully, before making comment on them here:
Comments are due by June 15, 2007. If you don't have strong feelings about the preserve, don't comment.

I could fill pages of my opinion on this issue, but I only going to give you a few sentences. This area of the Big Cypress is near an area that millions of people live, where recreational  space is needed and in short supply. Therefore the alternative that maximizes the allowed recreational use, while protecting the land, is my preferred alternative. The original preserve was created due to intense lobbying by many groups, but the Sportsmen (hunting) groups were one of the most insistent groups, in trying to protect the swamp. They were promised use of the preserve, when it was formed and that promise needs to be kept in the addition lands. Once ORVs are on sustainable designated trails, vast areas of the addition lands, will be protected and basically unused, because it is a swamp and not really suitable for walking during the wet time of the year. The designation of "Wilderness area" is also un-necessary, as the nature of the land, its unsuitability for use by man most of the year, is its protector. Designating it as "Wilderness" creates administrative issues and cost for the NPS, that are not required to protect its wilderness characteristics. This land does not really meet the requirements of "untrammeled by man" and "quiet area" as required by the "Wilderness Act". So protect it as preserve land, not "Wilderness".

Boot Hill on Buckskin Prairie
Boot Hill of Buckskin Prairie

Boot Hill
Not really a hill, unless you consider a six inch rise in elevation as a hill, but that is the name we call this place on Buckskin Prairie. Along the trail to camp Six Pack is this place, that for as long as I have known, is where people over the years have placed their old swamp boots.
This place to me represents all the sportsmen and outdoorsmen that have proceeded us in the Big Cypress Swamp. The old timers that forged the way, that homesteaded the swamp and many of whom helped protect it through supporting the forming of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
They were a patriotic bunch, many with a heritage of the "Old South". Many names come to mind, when ever I pass by this location, to many to list here, but not forgotten by me or others.
On a weekend that I went to camp Six Pack alone, I stopped on the way home at this spot to reflect on the "ole timers", that are represented by the boots to me. The flag waving in a stiff, but cool breeze and the sun shining to warm the heart and the soul. Remembrances of each individual, as I went through whom was brought to my mind by this scene. Lost in time, I eventually came to the end of my "ole timers", and continued my journey home. The next person to pass will have his "ole timer" remembrances and they will not be the same as mine. That is how it should be, a reflection on those you knew and remember.

Sentinel Cypress Tree
A lone standing cypress tree, covered with Spanish moss, standing as a sentinel over Ronnie's Pond is joined by a Split Tail Kite on a hunting expedition over the pond, in a cloudless blue sky. The dark mark at the bottom of the trunk, marking the normal water level of the pond. The pond grasses and willows are greening up for spring, while waiting for the rains to begin and the pond to fill, releasing the alligators from their small muddy water holes.

Single Cypress at Ronnies Pond
Sentinel Cypress Tree at Ronnie's Pond


Story by Steve - May 11, 2007