Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BRAVING THE BUGS Everglades Abuzz with Excitement, as Well as Mosquitoes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BRAVING THE BUGS Everglades Abuzz with Excitement, as Well as Mosquitoes

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Julavits, Times-Union outdoors editor

FLAMINGO -- No story on Everglades National Park can begin without first addressing the mosquitoes. They can be bad. Legendary bad.

The park, isolated at the southernmost tip of mainland Florida, boasts 43 different species of mosquitoes and maintains a daily posting of mosquito population levels, similar to the fire danger notices at forest lookout towers.

During the worst months, park employees walk around in government-issue bug suits, including mesh head coverings and leggings. If you examine closely the walls of your room at Flamingo Lodge, you may see small traces of blood, evidence of skeeters splattered by previous guests.

Why, then, would anyone want to visit here, let alone live here, as do some of the park personnel?

Because once you swat away the bugs -- and they're not all that bad during the cooler months -- the park is a wildlife sanctuary like no other. There's an exotic flair to the flora and fauna -- saltwater crocodiles and sawfish, roseate spoonbills and rare snail kites, gumbo limbo and mahogany trees, strangler figs and air plants.

On a recent trip, visitors saw whitetailed deer grazing on the grass median in front of the park entrance. If you're lucky, you may spy an endangered Florida panther on a park trail.

"During the winter months, a hike on the Anhinga Trail is really a world-class wildlife experience," said Rick Cook, public affairs officer for the park. "And people come from all over for the fishing."

"The Everglades is one of the natural wonders of the world," said 'Glades fishing guide Jon Holsenbeck, a native of Jacksonville. "If it weren't for the mosquitoes, this place would be full year-round."

At 1 1/2 million acres, Everglades National Park is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in North America, the third largest national park in the 48 contiguous states. Flamingo, the outpost that serves as headquarters for outdoor activities in the park, is almost 50 miles by car from Florida City, the nearest town. By boat, the Keys are about 30 miles away.

The 'Glades give meaning to the word backcountry. On the lonely road to Flamingo, a visitor passes miles and miles of sawgrass prairie, the fabled River of Grass embraced by author and Everglades crusader Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Outside Flamingo, the sawgrass gives way to the exposed, arching roots of mangrove forests, a tidal habitat that's not quite land, not quite water and home to wading birds, snook, 'coons and a host of other critters.

Flamingo itself consists of a visitors lodge, a restaurant that's open only during the cooler months, a bar/snack shop that serves sandwiches, pizza and complimentary breakfasts to lodge guests, a marine/convenience store and a marina with first-rate boat ramps. …

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