Paddling the Everglades
Covering almost the entire tip of Florida is the western
hemisphere’s largest mangrove estuary, Everglades National
Park. This is a biologically rich wilderness consisting of over 1.3
million acres of paddling wonderland. The Everglades’ natural
beauty and wildlife abundance are world renowned, home to over
300 species of birds, and the most signifi cant breeding grounds for
tropical wading birds in North America.
The intermingling of plant and animal species from both the
tropical and temperate zones, plus the merging of fresh and
saltwater habitats, provide the vast biological diversity that makes
Everglades National Park unique. Protected within the park are
endangered West Indies manatees, green Ridley, hawksbill and
leatherback sea turtles, American crocodile, wood stork, and
Florida panther. It is also home to the largest continuous stand of
saw grass prairie in North America, and has signifi cant ethnographic
resources, with 2,000 years of human occupation.
For paddlers, the park offers wonderful campsites along its
pristine beaches. In the interior, the Wilderness Waterway is a
kayaker’s dream, a marked, 99-mile passage through protected
waters, typically a seven-day paddle with designated campsites
strategically placed along the route.
The park is also a wonderfully abundant fi shery. With the rediscovery of the kayak as a fi shing platform, these plentiful waters are being experienced by the ardent kayak angler as well as the ‘fresh fi sh for dinner’ touring kayaker.
Beautiful as it is, the park is so vast that many paddlers cannot
enjoy its full richness due to the physical demands of long distance
paddling. Fortunately, several operations have now opened up to
provide mothership services into the park. Kayak anglers can be
transported deep into the area on day trips, or groups of paddlers
along with their kayaks and gear can be delivered or picked up
anywhere they choose.
Another fantastic trip is provided by way of the Iva W, a classic
1929 wooden vessel which will steam to Ponce De Leon Bay at the
mouth of the Shark River where you can paddle among old-growth
mangroves, some towering close to a 100 ft. skyward. Here you can
explore the maze of tidal rivers. The Bay is full of bottle-nosed dolphin, sea-turtle, tarpon and manatees, and countless wading birds.
The Everglades National Park is truly one the most spectacular
padding areas in North America. As environmentalist Joe Podger
says: “The Everglades are a test. If we pass it, we can keep the
© Captain Charles Wright runs Chokoloskee Charters.