Vestige of the Everglades: Grassy Waters Preserve
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. —John Muir
Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach presents the natural history of Florida in its pristine and wild 23.5 square miles. Today, the Preserve serves as the freshwater supply for the city and its associated municipalities — but historically the area was the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River (Seminole for River of Turtles). It was also a key component of the Everglades watershed, which began north of Orlando and flowed through rivers that emptied into the vast Lake Okeechobee, where the lake’s waters flooded into the Everglades Basin and slowly flowed into the Florida Bay. Humans have since severely altered this historic water flow — although efforts have begun in earnest to resolve years of detrimental impact. The Grassy Waters Preserve (GWP) represents a remnant of the once-magnificent Everglades ecosystem.
Numerous hiking and biking trails wind throughout GWP, including the Apoxee Trail — “beyond tomorrow” in the Miccosukee language (pronounced A-po-hee). We weren’t prepared for a flooded-trail hike, so we drove north to the Hog Hammock Trail, where we were delighted to be completely alone for our 5-mile venture, save the critters. What’s wonderful about GWP is the variety of trails offered — long, short, easy, advanced — you have your pick.
Wildlife sightings include alligator, deer, armadillo, wild turkey, feral hog, bobcat, otter, osprey, great-horned owl, hawk, assorted wading birds, and snail kite. The survival of snail kite — the logo for the Preserve — is dependent on the preservation of pristine wetlands like those at Grassy Waters. Sadly, like so many other species, it’s estimated that this amazing bird of prey will most likely face extinction within the next 30 years due to habitat loss and other factors. But at Grassy Waters, snail kite sightings are common — proving that this iconic Everglades resident is allowed the quality habitat it needs for a fighting chance at survival.
These images were taken during our Hog Hammock hike, which we did in its entirety, including the mile-long dead-end trip…. As we were leaving the trail, I was yapping about something terribly important and startled a magnificent great-horned owl, which alighted immediately in front of us. Argh for the failed photo op!