Author Bruce

Author Bruce

Canadian couple sights panther

This relaxed panther was sighted near gate 7 late in February.

Editor’s note: Lee Gerig and Carole Jodouin of Ottawa, Canada provided the Friends of Fakahatchee with a photo and report of their recent panther sighting in the Fakahatchee.

“On Saturday 24 Feb 2018, my wife and I decided to walk one of the trails in the Fakahatchee.  Our initial plan was to walk from gate 12 to the “Fakahatchee Hilton” as we have done that walk before and really enjoyed it.  Just after we entered the park and paid our admission fee, we encountered a volunteer who suggested we should try walking from the gate 7 and head toward the south tram trail – hopefully we might see some orchids.  On our way, we encountered the park biologist Mike Owen and his wife who were looking at snakes.  We stopped and chatted with them for about an hour and received an impressive flora/fauna lesson from them – really an enjoyable and educational experience.

“Then off to Gate 7 for our walk.  We hiked in about 2.5 miles and turned around.  About ¼ of a mile back we spotted a panther on the trail.  Our first ever!  Luckily, we had our cameras ready and were able to get some decent photos of this beautiful animal and watch it with our binoculars.  We probably got within 300 to 400 feet and watched him/her lie down, sit, look at us, and slowly walk away into the bush.  Overall an amazing experience.  We are now committed Fakahatchee supporters and will be back again next year, but this time we plan to take the swamp walk (now that we know about it) and of course take a few walks on our own.”

Outdoor Afros dodge gator in 10 mile hike in Fak

Outdoor Afro hikers check out an orange discovered along the trail.

Outdoor Afro hikers check out an orange discovered along the trail.

by Ta-Shana Taylor

Gators, panthers, black bears, oh my! On October 15th six Outdoor Afros, including Outdoor Afro Miami Leader Ta-Shana Taylor, hiked over 10 miles in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve as part of a national  #UndergroundTrailMode  movement.  Outdoor Afros is a national organization dedicated to connecting African Americans to outdoor experiences.

The pristine swamps of Fakahatchee were perfect for getting in touch with the experience slaves had along the Underground Railroad while braving the wilds of Florida on the way to the freedom of the Caribbean. And boy, did they get the full Fakahatchee experience! Their hike was almost cut short by an angry hissing gator that wouldn’t clear the trail, almost forcing them to turn back around. Luckily, Fakahatchee volunteer Skipper showed up as he was on his way to take well water samples at the Fakahatchee Hilton.  He saved the day by driving his truck and encouraging the gator to leave the trail.

With the help of Fakahatchee staff, the Outdoor Afros continued to the Hilton where they enjoyed lunch before tackling the overgrown trail that extends even further.  On this less-visited portion of the East Tram Trail, they saw fresh black bear tracks and a half-eaten opossum that was clearly someone’s lunch. Their teamwork made handling the thick brush an adventure filled with shared stories, laughs, and smiles. They also enjoyed learning about the edible plants on the trail from Yanique, an Outdoor Afro from Lake Worth who’s knowledgeable in ethnobotany.

After hiking 10 miles, their efforts were rewarded with seeing both a panther and a black bear on Jane’s Scenic Drive while leaving the park! The moment passed too quickly to get a picture, but all of the Outdoor Afros agreed that the beauty of Fakahatchee is one of Florida’s hidden gems and a great way to connect to black historical experiences.

  Editor’s note: Ta-Shana has seen panthers on her last two visits to the Fakahatchee!

Annual Fund drive yields new ATV for park staff

Park staffers admire the new Honda ATV acquired with funds from the FOF annual fund campaign. From left to right are: park services specialist Steve Houseknecht, ranger Steven Bass, biologist Mike Owen and ranger Tom Mosley.

Park staffers admire the new Honda ATV acquired with funds from the FOF annual fund campaign. From left to right are: park services specialist Steve Houseknecht, ranger Steven Bass, biologist Mike Owen and ranger Tom Mosley.

A shiny new red Honda ATV is this year’s evidence of the generosity of FOF members who participated in this year’s annual appeal.

“Members contributed more than $9,800 to the purchase of the ATV,” said FOF president Francine Stevens.  “The staff could not be more pleased and wants to thank members for their generosity.  With the new ATV, they will have reliable access to remote areas of the park.”

The Board of Directors and the Park manager have identified the need to purchase an all-terrain vehicle to be primarily used by veteran Park biologist Mike Owen and supporting staff.  The vehicle became the focus of the 2015 annual appeal launched late last year.

Stevens said the success of the appeal set the stage for another great year for the park and the Friends of Fakahatchee.

Sam Peters joins swamp walk/tram tour team

Sam Peters, center, one of the newest swamp walk leaders for the Friends of Fakahatchee, chats with wife Cynthia and Tom Maish, right.

Veteran Friends of Fakahatchee member Sam Peters (above, center) is the newest member of the Fakahatchee Adventure team.  Sam has earned rave reviews on TripAdvisor for leading swamp walks and tram tours this season.  One visitor described him as “a true naturalist with plenty of depth and breadth to really teach you something about the different habitats at the Fak.”

Notes Friends president Francine Stevens: “Sam shows  his support of the FOF  mission to educate the public about the importance of preserving the fragile ecology of the Fakahatchee every time he drives all the way from Miami to lead a swamp walk.  All of our leaders are dedicated naturalists, but he literally goes the extra mile.”

Sam’s dedication runs in the family. His wife, Cynthia (above, left)  is a former FOF board member who served as chairman of the event committee.  At right is Boardwalk Vision Committee chairman Tom Maish.

Patrick Higgins receives 2016 Mel Finn award

FOF vice-president Patrick Higgins, was presented the 2016 Mel Finn award by president Francine Stevens

FOF vice-president Patrick Higgins receives the 2016 Mel Finn award from president Francine Stevens

Vice-president Patrick Higgins received the Friends of Fakahatchee Mel Finn Award at the group’s recent annual meeting. The award is presented annually to an outstanding member. The award is named for Mel Finn, who has been called the father of the Fakahatchee for his efforts to preserve Fakahatchee Strand.

In presenting the award, president Francine Stevens described Higgins as “someone who constantly surpasses your expectations.”

In addition to serving as vice president, Higgins’ many other contributions include leading swamp walks and tram tours, making presentations on the Fakahatchee to area groups and serving as the FOF project manager for the Boardwalk Expansion project.

As the 2016 Mel Finn Award honoree, Higgins joins these past recipients of the award:

Don Harmon, Roger Dykstra, Dennis Marlin, Elsa Caldwell, Barbara Lewinski, Franklin Adams (2005),  John Elting (2007),  Allen Caldwell (2008),  Nelson Tilden (2009),  Marya Repko (2010), Tom Maish (2011), Caryl Tilden (2012),  Glen Stacell (2013),  Bill Mesce (2014), and Howard Lubel (2015).


Amazon shoppers can raise cash for Friends of Fakahatchee

If you shop at, you can now help raise funds for the Friends of Fahahatchee.  Under the new Amazon Smile program, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases directly to the Friends of Fakahatchee.
“We have already tried this program on a limited basis and it works great,” says Friends of Fakahatchee President Francine Stevens.  “It does not increase the price of your purchase or in any way change your relationship with Amazon.amazonlogo
To activate the program, click on HERE and bookmark the Amazon page in your browser.  Then use this page to login each time you make an Amazon purchase.  Amazon will forward the resulting donation directly to the Friends of Fakahatchee.       “I hope all of our members will use this generous new feature of Amazon,” Stevens said.  “It could be a significant new source of support for the park we love.”

Work starts on Boardwalk deceleration lane

Earth moving equipment at work at new parking area entrance

Earth moving equipment at work at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk area.

Work has started on the deceleration lane opposite the new parking area entrance at Fakahatchee’s Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This construction demonstrates that the Friends of Fakahatchee Boardwalk Improvement Project is underway! Completion of the lane is expected by the end of March.

Construction of the new Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk entrance, parking area, bridge over the canal and the new low-level boardwalk linking the old site (phase 1 of the project) is being  undertaken separately by the of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Design and Construction later this season. The road construction is an exciting start and shows that the Friend’s of Fakahatchee’s multi-year effort to improve the site is finally bearing fruit.

For details on the project, click on The Boardwalk under the Plan Your Visit tab above.

Fakahatchee swampwalk reflections

A well-disguised gator patrols Fakahatchee strand. (Photo by Quinn Hiaasen)

By Quinn Hiaasen

The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is a wetland in the Florida Everglades. Recently we had the treat of visiting this wild place. It is one of the most biologically rich places in the United States, and contains many species that are found nowhere else in North America.

I have always loved nature, and being in the middle of it. The silence and serene qualities of the “middle of nowhere” are very intriguing to me. The swamp was quite literally, the “middle of nowhere”. I was blown away by how small you suddenly feel as you walk deeper into the swamp. Its beauty can pull you further and further into it, and before you know it, you are lost in a seemingly endless landscape of marsh.

As a photographer, the Fakahatchee Strand was the most dramatic environment I have ever been in. Light refracts through the water vapor rising off of the saturated marsh floor, casting long shadows behind trees and plants. Fallen cypress stumps display their ancient architecture that has been etched into their wood by hundreds of years of enduring the watery domain. Water droplets cling to the leaves of bromeliads as a morning dew settles on the plant. Ferns and orchids attach themselves to trunks of pond apple trees. Alligators bask beneath a layer of green slime, patiently waiting for their next meal. There seemed to be an endless number of frames to capture, every square foot of the swamp was special in its own way. I soon realized, however, that I had to pace myself and look for the things that you may walk by without even noticing.

It was an incredible trip. I have come away with some amazing photographs, as well as fond memories. Someday I hope to go into this swamp again, and continue to explore more of the 80,000 acres of wilderness.

Editor’s note: Quinn is the son of author Carl Hiaasen