Learn About Royal Palm State Park

Royal Palm State ParkThe Everglades is vast, and it has so many different areas for people to explore. One such area is Royal Palm State Park. This Park was established in 1916, but it was surveyed back in 1847 by Jack Jackson. Scientists studied the area and it became known for its botanical diversity and hammock.

In 1916, the state of Florida said 960 acres would be set aside as a state park so it could be safe from  development. At the time, Henry Flagler owned much land in the area and the Florida Federation of Women’s Club was afraid he would build on this land. This group’s campaign to save this land is what made the state grant the land to them as a park. Five years later, the state donated 2,080 more acres to the park. Now, Royal Palm State Park is 4,000 acres in size.

In this park, visitors can find lots of trails, Research Road, the Nike Missile Site HM-69, bird watching, camping, biking, programs, boating, slogging, horseback riding, tours, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and the Pine Rocklands. There is also an information station and bookstore that is worth visiting; there are vending machines and restrooms. The information station/visitor center offers ranger-led walks and talks in the area. The center is a little over a mile from the Homestead Park entrance.  The Park stretches from the Homestead entrance to the Flamingo Entrance.

Visit the Park

If you’re looking for a great place to explore, Royal Palm State Park is a great place. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (December to April) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May to November).  If you want a more expansive way to view the Everglades, you can jump on an airboat and take a tour. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book a tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours today.

Photo courtesy: National Park Service

Joe Bay and Snag Bay Reopen

joe bayIn case you missed it, Everglades National Park opened both Joe Bay and Snag Bay back up to the public on November 24, 2016. This is the first time in more than 30 years these bays have been opened to the public. Joe Bay, which is adjacent to Snag Bay in the park, is now the area’s first “catch-and-release” fishing area.

In the 2015 General Management Plan, it was decided to re-open the bays. The bays are reopened with proper protection; it will also provide a new experience for visitors.

The bays were closed to help restore the declining American Crocodile population, which was near extinction. Since the number of crocodiles has risen, the Park decided it was time to reopen the bay.

These bays can be access from Trout Cove and Trout Creek. To enter the bay area, people must use a paddle or push pole. If people want to enter the area by boat, they need to remove combustion engines and/or trolling motors from the transom and/or bow before going into Joe and Snag Bay. The bays are now no-motor zones. In all areas, people are asked to follow rules to protect the shallow water areas. People can explore the bay in kayaks and canoes.

Joe Bay and Snag Bay were part of the Crocodile Sanctuary until it closed in 1980 to the public to protect the crocodiles, along with other endangered species. There are still other areas of the sanctuary that are closed to the public.

Explore the Everglades

The Everglades are full of bays and creeks for people to explore, as long as they follow Park rules and respect the wildlife and plant life in the area. The reopening of these bays show a victory in conservation efforts in the Everglades. If you’re looking to explore the Everglades in another way, try an airboat tour. To book a tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.


Everglades Invasive Species: Australian Pine

Australian PineThere are around 18,000 plants native to North America. These plants provide food, fiber, and habitats that people and wildlife depend on. Unfortunately, many invasive (non-native species) plants have become a threat to the native plants and are the second greatest threat (next to humans) to them. Many of these invasive plants have found their way into the Everglades. The Park staff work throughout the year to remove these plants whenever they can in order to protect the natural habitat. One of these invasive species is the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).They have invaded thousands of acres in southern Florida.

The Australian Pine, as you may have guessed, is native to Australia, but also to Malaysia and southern parts of Asia. This plant came to Florida in the late 1800s and was used for ditch and canal stabilization, along with for its shade and lumber.

This tree is tall and can grow up to 100 feet or more. Its needles have a soft appearance and it produced small, oval cones. This tree grows fast and can provide thick shade to an area. Its leaves and fruit completely cover the ground under it. The checmicals from the leaves and keep other plants from growing in that area. Because its roots can produce nitrogen, it can grow well even in soil that is poor. However once it is growing, it can change the light, temperature, and soil of the beach habitats because it displaces native species and destroys the natural habitat for wildlife and insects. Because of these shallow roots, they tend to topple over during storms and high winds, which can cause hazards. Since it does not have thick of shallow roots, it helps contribute to beach and dune erosion, which negatively affects the ways sea turtles and alligators nest.  By displacing deep-rooted native plants, beaches are more prone to erosion.  They also provide little to no habitat for the wildlife in the area.

As of right now, manual removal of seedlings and saplings is recommended. If there is a heavier infestation of the Australian pine, a systemic type of herbicide is applied to bark, stumps, or foliage. Planned fires also are used when able. They are resistant to salt spray.

Visit the Everglades

If you’d like to help with the removal of invasive species, contact the Everglades National Park service and see what you can do to help. Many times, if you spot a plant in the Everglades that you think is invasive, you can notify a park ranger and they will look into it. While you’re visiting the Everglades, explore the area even more on an airboat tour. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here to book a tour today.

Update on Everglades Funding

evergladesIn December, President Obama signed a bill that authorized $2 billion to go towards restoration efforts in the Everglades. This bill was called The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016. This act provides half the funding needed for the Central Everglades Planning Project, and the other half of the funding will come from Florida.

According to the Everglades foundation, the Central Everglades Planning Project will remove levees, so a more natural flow of the water will flow across the plain. As of now, and for decades, the water is diverted east and west. With this project, the water will no longer be restricted from flowing south from Lake Okeechobee, which is the natural flow. For many years, people have been complaining about the negative impact of this water restriction and were looking for a permanent fix to redirect the water to its natural flow.

This issue is important to many Floridians because they want to ensure their water is clean; the water people used to drink, shower, water their lawn, and so on, comes from the Everglades.

This bill was pushed by Congresswoman Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Congressman Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, and Congressman Patrick Murphy of Stuart. Congressman Deutch hopes there will be a future commitment on the federal level for funding.

With this project, the state is also looking for solutions on where to put the water. It has been proposed that the state could by 60,000 acres of land in western Palm Beach County, which is currently owned by sugar producers. This land would be used as a reservoir to store water from the Lake, so it will no longer run east and west. This will be further discussed by state lawmakers in March of this year (2017).

Visit the Everglades

The Everglades is one of the world’s gems, and thankfully more efforts are being taken to restore it before it disappears. If you want to take a trip through this beautiful wetland, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s airboat tours will give you an up-close-and-personal look into this mystical place. To book an airboat tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Cacti and Succulents of the Everglades

cacti Did you know cacti and succulents grow in the Everglades? Surprising, right? These plants don’t just grow in deserts. In fact, many grow in tropical and subtropical climates. The species, native to the Everglades, thrive off the frequent rainfall and the sunny dates. They require a balance of wet and dry conditions.

In the Everglades, the Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii) is listed as endangered by Florida. This cacti has white, large, night-blooming flowers that are quite fragrant, and it produces a prickly fruit. It is known as “Queen of the Night” because the flowers open only during the night. Bats, moths, and other insects pollinate the flowers. Along with the Simpson’s applecactus, the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is also endangered and hasn’t been seen in the park in 12 years after the last plant was destroyed by a hurricane.

Many species of the prickly-pear cactus exist in the Everglades; these cacti is known by its fleshy green pads, large yellow/orange/red cup-shaped flowers and reddish-purple pear-shaped fruits. The fruits it produces are called tunas. Each flower only blooms for one day.

Lastly, the columnar dildo (triangle cactus) is in the Everglades and can grow up to 23 feet; it has large, white flowers that open from midnight to dawn. This plant produces shiny, red fruit.

As far as succulents go, the agave decipiens grows on shells mounts in the Everglades that were created years ago by Native Americans; they are bright green and have spiny leaves. Tequila, mescal, and other drinks come from the Agave. The wormvine vanilla (Vanilla barbellata) is an endangered succulent with a thick stem that stores water; they product beautiful flowers. Shoreline seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) grows on coastal prairies and beach dunes in the Everglades. It has thick leaves and a reddish/green stem with pink flowers that only open a few hours a day. It is a ground-covering species that stabilizing sand dunes, which helps prevent beach erosion.

Check Out These Everglades Plants in Real Life

Looking to catch a glimpse of some of these beautiful cacti and succulents? Well, then it’s time to take a trip to the Everglades. While you’re there, try out an airboat tour. You won’t be disappointed. To schedule an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

FAQ About Everglades National Park

things to do in the evergladesWant to take a trip to the Everglades? It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. On an airboat tour with Captain Mitch, you’ll be able to get up-close views of the beautiful surroundings, along with the opportunity for many wildlife sightings. However, people often have many questions before entering the Everglades. The National Park Service has many Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on its website to help people be better prepared for their trip to the Everglades. Below, we wanted to share some of these questions with you, so you can have a great time and feel comforted knowing as much as possible before you jump on a tour and explore the wetland.

Q: What time does the park close?
The Park’s main entrance in Homestead and Shark Valley entrance in Miami are open every day, all day and night. It is not staffed after 6 p.m. No one will get locked in the park during the night, and you can enter or exit at any time.

Q: Does it cost to enter the Park?
A: Fees vary. For a pedestrian and cyclist, it cost $8 to enter the park (at all park entrances). Children 16 or younger get in for free.  A motorcycle cost $20 to enter and a car cost $25 to enter. Annual passes cost $40.

Q: Are there places to eat in the Park?
A: The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center bookstore, the Royal Palm Visitor Center bookstore, the Flamingo marina store, and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center has snack foods and beverages. The Buttonwood Café in Flamingo is open from November 15 to April 15. It is recommended by the Park that people bring their own food and drinks during their trip.

Q: Are the crocodiles and alligators aggressive?
  Alligators and crocodiles are unpredictable; crocodiles are known to be a bit more aggressive than alligators when provoked. It’s best to keep a safe distance (15 to 20 feet) when viewing any wildlife. The Park tells visitors to NOT feed wild animals; it is a criminal offense to do so. Since 1990, two people have received injurie from alligator attackers after swimming/splashing in the alligator’s habitat.

Q: Are Pets Allowed?
Pets are allowed in parking lots, campgrounds, boats, maintained ground of a public facility, on public roadways, and on roadside campgrounds and picnic areas. They are not allowed on trails or wilderness areas. They must be on a leash (no longer than 6 feet).

Explore the Everglades

An airboat tour is a wonderful way to experience the Everglades. Book a tour with Captain Mitch today. Captain Mitch has been giving tours in the Everglades for more than 30 years. To schedule a tour, click here to call 800-368-0065.


The False Killer Whale in the Everglades

False Killer WhaleWhat is a false killer whale? Well, its name is misleading. The false killer whale isn’t actually related to the killer whale, but rather, it’s a member of the dolphin family. This dolphin is also known as ‘blackfish.’ In mid-January, 95 dolphins stranded themselves on a remote coast along Hog Key in the Everglades National Park.  Despite rescue efforts, 82 of the dolphins died. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this event is the largest mass stranding of fall killer whales ever in Florida.  Many of the whales were deeply stuck in the mangroves and it was extremely difficult for rescue efforts to be successful. The last time a stranding occurred was back in 1986 when 3 false killer whales out of a group of 40 were stranded close to Cedar Key.

The Park has decided to leave the carcasses of the dolphins on the beach and coastline; this is a move to preserve the natural ecosystem of the area. By keeping the dolphins there, scavengers like vultures, sharks, and crabs will have an additional food source. Because of this unfortunate stranding, the Park has closed Wood Key Cove and the Hog Key backcountry campsite to ensure public safety while also protecting the area.

The dolphins are the fourth largest species of dolphin and can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They are long, slender, and dark or gray (resembling an orca whale). They have a narrow, pointed head and pointed flippers with an S-shaped elbow and a large falcate dorsal fin in the middle of their body.

False killer whales are fast moving, active, and playful. They can be found in warm to tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They primarily eat tuna, mahi-mahi, other fish, and cephalopods. Not too much is truly known about this dolphin; it usually stays in deep waters, so it hasn’t been studied a lot.

As of now, there is no definite reason for this most recent stranding, but biologists and responders from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration are conducting forensic evidence to figure out why this may have happened. One theory is the dolphins may have been overcome by the tide and dragged to shore.

Visit the Everglades

The Everglades is home to hundreds of species, including the false killer whale. On an airboat tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see a lot of the different wildlife in the area. To book a trip with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Stargazing in the Everglades

stargazingIn the United States, the National Parks are some of the last places left in the country that provide true, natural darkness at night. This darkness makes for ideal stargazing opportunities. The Everglades is an ideal place to view a starry sky, while also providing a perfect nocturnal habitat for hundreds of creatures. The wildlife relies on the Park’s natural lightscape for navigation, and knowing when to hide from predators.

The Park is dedicated to protecting the natural lightscape. Any lighting placed in the park is determined by the location, energy need, cost, maintenance efficiency, light pollution, and effects on wildlife. The Park Service has installed efficient lightings in new buildings and facilities, including solar-powered light fixtures in the parking lot at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center.  All the new fixtures outside direct light downward, which prevents glare and light pollination.

Every month during and around the new moon, the Everglades is a great spot to view the Milky Way. When viewing the glowing band of light with binoculars, you can better see some individual stars. During the winter season, park rangers lead numerous programs where people can star gaze; telescopes are often available to view the starry night. Visitors are asked to arrive early for their eyes to adjust to  the darkness; they are also asked to bring a flashlight and to dress appropriately for the weather. One such program is a ranger-led moon bicycle ride on the Shark Valley Tram Road. To book or view schedules, click here.

Explore the Everglades

The starry sky in the Everglades is surely a sight to see – breathtaking views of the stars that you cannot see quite like this anywhere else. If you’re planning on staying late in the Park, take an airboat ride during the day to get a whole different view and perspective of the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun airboat adventure. To book a trip, clic

Status of the Manatees

manateesWe’re in the midst of manatee season down here in South Florida. The season begins November 15 and goes until March 31. This year, the government will make a decision on whether or not the manatees will still have an endangered species status. Over the years, the manatees numbers have grown, which is why this change of status may occur. Right now, the manatees’ numbers are around 6,300 in Florida; back in 1991, this number was at 1,267. In the last 26 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local governments have helped create more than 50 manatee protection zones, boating rules, and restricted construction of docks in certain habitats.

Around 95 manatees were killed in 2016 by boats and other watercrafts. With such a high number of manatees being killed last year and this season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges boaters to be extra careful.

There is a proposal to change the manatees from endangered to threatened species. However, many scientists are opposed to it because it would remove federal protection from manatees in the Caribbean, whose numbers aren’t as high as the ones living in Florida. They also think loss of seagrass habitation, climate change, and increases in Florida’s human population will lower the manatees numbers again. They believe there may not be enough progress to demote them to a threatened species. The executive director of the Save the Manatee Club feels the change to threatened from endangered could lead to fewer manatee-safety zones and less caring with boaters.

As of now during the season, slower speed limits go in effect for boaters. Boaters are asked to wear polarized sunglasses to better spot manatees and abide by the speed limits put in place.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, manatees are a “keystone species;” their behaviors can alert researcher to environmental changes. The Everglades Park monitors the manatees by tagging them.

Glide by the Manatees

Although not guaranteed, you may get the chance to see a manatee on an airboat tour through the Everglades. If not, don’t worry there are so many other animals and marine life you can spot on a ride. Book an airboat adventure today with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book your trip.

All About the Gumbo-Limbo Tree

Gumbo-limbo Tree Ever heard of the gumbo-limbo tree? No, it’s not from a fantasy book, it’s a real tree that lives in the Everglades. In fact, it’s one of the best-known trees in south Florida.  It’s also known as the “tourist tree,” because its peeling bark resembles the skin of South Florida visitors.

This tree has a shiny, red bark that has the appearance that it’s constantly peeling. It has green leaves that grow in spirals. It produces fruit mainly in March and April. The gumbo limbo tree is tall (grows rapidly), and it’s wood is easy to carve. It is very sturdy and hurricane resistant. But when they do fall, they can sprout from a broken branch on the ground; clearly, they are a very resilient plant! This tree is also considered a shade tree that thrives with minimal care.

The resin from the tree has medicinal purposes and can treat gout. Tea that is made from the tree’s leave is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

In the Everglades National Park, there is a Gumbo Limbo Trail that is .4 miles round trip. Bicycles are not allowed on this path. This paved path brings visitors through a shaded, hammock of gumbo limbo trees, along with royal palms, ferns, and air plants. The trail is about 4 miles from the main park entrance. This is considered an easy path. Along this trail, there are signs identifying the trees and explaining how this forest formed. There are some deep holes surrounding the path and it is known to be a bit buggy.

Check Out the Gumbo-Limbo Trees

While you can check out these unique-looking trees on the Gumbo-Limbo Trail, you can also view these trees and even more vegetation on an airboat tour through the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun and exciting airboat adventure today. To book an airboat tour in the Everglades, click here or call 800-368-0065.