Sunday, March 20, 2011

Everglades and Francis S. Taylor WMAs (South Florida)

Stumbles Recommended! 
When you hear "Everglades," you might think of the national park.  But there are Everglades throughout a significant portion of south Florida, and they can be accessed well beyond the national park.  The Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Areas, in fact, cover more than 1,000 square miles of Everglades across three counties from Miami to north of Ft. Lauderdale.

Within the WMAs, you can explore the Everglades by canoe (and, loudly, airboat), bike, and foot.  If on foot, the "hiking" isn't the most remote bushwhacking you'll find, but it's easy to follow (since it is the only dry land out there) and nice and flat.  The trails are levees that parallel the canals segmenting the WMAs.

Stumbles and Papa Stumbles check out the wildlife

I've only been on the 12-mile L-35B levee.  (You can check out a map of the area here.)  From the levee, we have seen alligators, cranes, snakes, the infamous turkey vulture, turtles, and other wildlife.   L-35B ends at a public boat ramp and airboat concessionaire.  Here, you can grab a snack and rest in some shade before heading back the way you came (another 12 miles back, but at least it is flat!).  Alternatively, there are several loop options if your legs can handle it.  I'd like to explore the area in a canoe one day.  Not a kayak, mind you - too close to the gators!

Whether hiking or biking, be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen because shade is scarce, to say the least.  L-35B runs straight for about 10 miles, and then turns south for the final section.  There are distance-markers every few miles, and a map of the region at the parking lot. 

In short:
  • There are motorized boats and service roads but it is beautiful Everglades that is easily accessible from almost anywhere on the east side of south Florida.
  • Flat walking or biking on gravel roads along the levee.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife.  

Logistics:  To get to the L-35B levee, take W. Atlantic Blvd. west in Pompano Beach, FL, until it dead ends at the intersection and on-ramp to the Route 869 / the Sawgrass Expressway.  Instead of making a left, you'll need to cut through the intersection onto the gravel road (if you can call it that) that parallels the on-ramp.  After 100 yards or so, you'll come to the access gate to the levee and a small parking area.