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Everglades: River of Grass

History of the Everglades

By Tamara Lush

Aerial view of Florida Everglades
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With 1.5 million acres of swamps, saw-grass prairies and sub-tropical jungles, Everglades National Park is one of the most unusual public parks in the United States. Located on the southern tip of Florida, the park is home to 14 rare and endangered species, including the American Crocodile, the Florida Panther and the West Indian Manatee. A large portion of the park is primitive, explored only by adventurists and researchers – but visitors have ample opportunity to walk, camp and canoe through the flat and watery park that is also known as “the river of grass.” This treasure is one of Miami's national parks.

Five thousand years ago, the Everglades encompassed much of Florida, from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

Evidence of early Native American settlers in the Everglades dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. As Europeans landed in St. Augustine, Florida and moved around the region, other Native American tribes, most notably the Seminoles, fled south into the inhospitable swamp. In the late 1800s, a few rugged settlers founded the village of Flamingo, located at the very tip of Florida (and the end of the swampy Everglades).

By 1934, Congress signed an act that allowed for the creation of a park in South Florida. Initially, the park would encompass 460,000 acres of federal, state and private lands – but over the years, land acquisitions would increase its size. Today, the Everglades is the third largest national park.

President Harry S. Truman dedicated the park in 1947 with these words: "Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country."

In 1979, UNESCO declared Everglades National Park a World Heritage Site, for the area’s indigenous history and its diversity of flora and fauna.

Today, Everglades National Park is a protected area; however, it only encompasses one-seventh of the area known as the Everglades. Much of the northern stretches of the swamp are currently threatened by draining and development, and environmentalists warn that if the non-park areas are not protected, the world will lose an important and unique ecosystem.

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