At our friends' recommendation, we visited the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary today. Normally, we would have made the trip together in one car, but what passes for a cold front in Florida has come through and we would have had to keep the car windows closed. As old and cautious people, we decided to caravan instead. The park had reopened recently and the staff controlled the number of visitors by requiring timed reservations.
Up until the early 1900's few people outside of southern Florida had ever heard of Corkscrew. It was around this period when egret and heron plumes were in high demand for use in the fashion industry. Plume hunters could make a fortune in a well timed weekend hunt, and were quickly devastating rookeries throughout Florida and in the southeastern United States. The rookery at Corkscrew was among those targeted.
Systematic logging of South Florida cypress forests started in 1944 in the Fakahatchee strand south of Corkscrew. Much of the lumber went to assist in the rebuilding of Europe after WWII. By the early 1950's all of the Fakahatchee cypress had been logged, and Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company had moved north to Corkscrew. Networks of logging roads were constructed and massive 500-year-old trees were being pulled out. Locals were alarmed at the prospect of losing all the great cypress forests to logging and began a campaign to save the swamp. The National Audubon Society and a long list of organizations and individuals worked together to raise the support necessary to purchase the last expanse of virgin bald cypress left in the world, which also housed the largest and most important Wood Stork rookery in the United States. By 1954, 5,680 acres were secured and the Corkscrew rookery became Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
The Corkscrew Swamp is a water-filled spot depending on the time of year you visit. It gets nearly all its fresh water from summer rains which evaporate very gradually until the area is almost dry by spring. To make the swamp accessible anytime, a 2-½ mile board was built out of special never-rot wood imported from Brazil. The swamp includes four unique ecosystems and as we walked, the vegetation changed dramatically from thick stands of trees to pond-like areas. We walked through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. We profited greatly from the people we followed through the swamp many of whom were avid birders who knew where to look and what we were looking at. Periodic signs were also informative. The vegetation was quite thick and we often could hear birds that we only caught brief glimpses of.