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In Florida, going to the beach is probably one of the first things we think about for a nice, sunny day outing. Having access to 47 miles of nearby Palm Beach County coastline may also be one of the attractions that brought us here in the first place. But after a time, we may look for a change of pace — from the ocean to different outdoor experiences.
Looking about in Florida, the Everglades is one place that comes to mind. As noted author and conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas first described, “There are no other Everglades in the world.” The Florida Everglades later earned designation as a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site: “a place on Earth of outstanding value to humanity to appreciate and enjoy.” That’s in the company of the Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef and Himalayan mountains.
Are you thinking the Everglades is like those other sites? Another remote place, somewhere down overcrowded turnpikes, way down past Miami? No, you’re thinking of the National Park, a designated area in the southernmost part of Florida. Geographically, the Everglades “River of Grass” is actually the subtropical wetlands ecosystem that covers much of the interior of the Florida peninsula. The northernmost designated area of the Everglades is actually right here west of Boynton Beach: the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is only 6 miles west of our coastline — as the wood stork flies. Not so far away for an outdoors change of pace, unlike any other in the county. Of the many unique habitats found within the refuge is a natural conservation area of what Florida looked like before all our urban development. It’s called a cypress swamp, a wetlands area with trees. It is a biodiverse community of interdependent, native plants and animals, several endangered or threatened. The Loxahatchee Refuge Cypress Swamp is over 400 acres in size, the largest forested community of cypress trees east of Lake Okeechobee. It is made wholly accessible to visitors by a 0.4-mile wooden boardwalk that winds through a portion of the swamp and returns you back to the visitor center.
What might you experience on the boardwalk? A connection with Palm Beach County’s wild heart of nature, and healthy well-being by taking a forested green space walk. Opportunities to experience or learn about unique plants and animals are found here, too, like cypress trees, which are related to redwoods, that may grow thousands of years and thrive in water, or ferns that grow 12 feet tall. You can also observe activities of North America’s largest woodpecker and spot bobcat signs. Check out our new self-guide brochure on entering.
Learn more about the refuge and meet others supporting it by joining the nonprofit Friends of Loxahatchee as a member, donor or volunteer at loxahatcheefriends.com. See you out there.
Ron Seifer, Ph.D., is a member of the Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.