Author NextSteps

Author NextSteps

Dick and Edite Hughes receive 2019 Mel Finn Award

2019 Mel Finn Award

Edite and Dick Hughes Mel Finn Award 2019Glen Stacell presented the 2019 Mel Finn award to Dick and Edite Hughes for 15 years of dedication to keeping the Boardwalk in good repair. The Park is the beneficiary of their skills and the generosity of their time through the years.

On any given day one may encounter Edite and Dick Hughes hip deep in Boardwalk repair. You too can volunteer, whether your talents are with tools or talking or behind the scenes.

Five Faces of Fakahatchee Gala

Fakahatchee gala painting

This original painting, “Boardwalk Reflection” by Paul Arsenault is being auctioned to help fund the Boardwalk Restoration Project.

The Friends of Fakahatchee, along with Paul and Eileen Arsenault will host a “Five Faces of Fakahatchee” gala Thursday, January 16 at the Arsenault Studio & Banyan Arts Gallery in Naples.

The event will honor Lavern Norris Gaynor, whose father Lester was instrumental in preserving the land for Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The Boardwalk has been maintained by the Friends of Fakahatchee for the past 20 years.

“There is no doubt that without the generosity and foresight of the Norris family, this National Natural Landmark would have been lost forever,” said Glen Stacell, President of the Friends of Fakahatchee.

Paul Arsenault will donate 100% of the proceeds from this auction of his original 20 x 24 oil on linen “Boardwalk Reflection” to the Friends of the Fakahatchee to benefit the Fakahatchee Boardwalk Expansion Project.

“My hope is that my artwork will inspire more people to visit the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, and support the Friends mission” said Paul Arsenault.

Admission to the Five Faces of the Fakahatchee gala is $150 per person and includes a service of hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer. All proceeds will benefit the Boardwalk Improvement Project. $90.00 of the ticket price qualifies as a donation.

For complete details and required reservation visit and click EVENT. For questions call 239.695.1023 or e-mail

October and November dates set for volunteer work days

The work days for groups of volunteers will be project-oriented. The October 19 work day will be a clean-up at the North end lakes. The November 16 work day will focus on improvements to the East Main trail parking area.

Each work day will begin at 8:30 AM, and volunteers are not required to work for an entire day. To register (and for details), please e-mail Park Service Specialist or call the Park Office at 239-695-4593.

January Fundraising Event features Paul Arsenault


Paul Arsenault spent time at the Fakahatchee Hilton working for the upcoming Boardwalk Fundraiser.

Well-known Naples Artist Paul Arsenault is no stranger to the Fakahatchee. He’s painted knee deep in water in the swamp, and he has offered to donate an original painting to raise funds for the FOF. On top of that, Paul will hold an event on Thursday, January 16, 2020 from 6:00 PM to 8 PM at his Banyan Arts Gallery on 3rd Street in Naples.

arsenault-kneedeep-2020We will be honoring Laverne Gaynor Norris as part of the event. Her father, Lester Norris, bought 640 acres in 1957 to prevent it from being logged. That tract of land is known to all of us as the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This fundraising event will give us the opportunity to express our gratitude to Mrs. Gaynor and celebrate her father’s vision and generous donation of the land and Boardwalk to the State Park Service. We hope you can join us for this event to help realize the dream of the Boardwalk Expansion Project.

Mark your calendar and check back for additional details about this event.

A walk down Gate # 3 Trail

By Andrew Tyler

For current trail conditions call the Fakahatchee park office 239-961-1925.

As those of you who are regular visitors to Fakahatchee will know, a drive up Janes Scenic Drive (JSD), will periodically pass numbered gates. These locations represent places that were the beginning of railroad spurs from the main line that ran up JSD when the Fakahatchee was being logged in the 1940s and 1950s. When logging operations ceased in the mid-1950s the rails were removed and the spurs unattended, so that some are hard to distinguish from the trees and other vegetation that surround them. Other gates provide entrances to hiking trails in the modern Park and are therefore quite obvious when driving. For example, Gate 7 is the terminus of the West Main hiking trail.

Gate 3 Trail

Gate #3 trail is on the right-hand side of Jane’s Scenic Drive, approximately 2.8 miles from the zero mile marker. There is a small parking area on the right to pull in, and you will know you’re in the right place when you see the two green-colored posts adorned with “Gate 3” in white paint.

The trail at Gate 3 is a relatively recent addition to the hiking options in the Park. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention David Pickering, a volunteer who worked diligently for a long time to bring this trail up to its present condition. I was introduced to the trail earlier this season and finding myself in the Park, I paid a return solo visit on Easter Saturday, 2019.

This trail is a delightful addition. The trail is level and relatively dry. You could hike to the end and back in fifteen minutes if you are in a hurry. However, I find this trail to be a delightful opportunity to take a slow stroll and really have a close look at what’s going on and growing around you. The usual precautions of wilderness hiking apply here too, despite the relatively well groomed and level environment. Suggestions for preparation may be found on the Trails and Maps page of our website, and in this case please remember that poison ivy is everywhere, groomed trail or not!

The trail sits atop one of the old trams; trams were originally built as railroad beds. The trams were made by ‘borrowing’ rock and soil from the areas to the sides of the new railroad bed, thereby raising them above the surrounding waters. Of course, this also leaves depressed areas to the sides of the tram. On Tram trail # 3 rocks were removed from either side. Whether or not you will find water in the depressed areas will depend upon the time of year and rainfall.

bladderwortThis year, in many areas the swamp has not dried down entirely, and to the right of the trail’s entrance there was sufficient water to support a population of Bladderworts (shown here). There are four distinct Bladderworts (Utricularia spp.), found in Florida, all of which have yellow-colored flowers. Bladderworts are the only carnivorous plants found in the Fakahatchee. The ‘bladders’ which are the parts that act as the plants’ ‘mouth’ are tiny, and they digest nematodes and other extremely small animals that live in the water and mud.

On my hike I walked to the far end of the trail and then explored in more detail on my return. The end of the trail is easily identified by the ruins of an old cabin that was no doubt someone’s ‘Cabin in the Woods’ in the era after logging when such things were quite common. The trail continues to the left of the cabin and runs for a short distance, after which it becomes quite wet and you are advised to re-trace your steps, unless you are prepared for wet walking.

lizard dewlapAs I passed the cabin ruins, I spotted a brown anole sitting on a twig, exhibiting behaviors that suggest mating season is underway. The colorful red and yellow under the throat of the male is known as a dewlap. Male brown anoles extend their dewlaps to attract females or as a warning to other males.

We are all familiar with some of the ‘charismatic’ species that live within the Park’s boundaries: panthers, black bear, Everglades mink, ghost orchids, and so on. We know that they’re here, but the chance of spotting any of these species on any given day is a matter of patience and a not insignificant amount of luck! This makes it easy to overlook some of the more common flora and fauna, much of which is no less attractive in its way than the charismatic species, but sometimes overlooked because of its very commonality.

epiphytesIf you look closely at the photo of a tree  along the Gate 3 trail, you’ll see that it holds three air plants and a host of mosses and lichens. It is unremarkable from many other trees along the trail, but the sheer diversity of epiphytic species is wonderful. I will often tell visitors that “if you stand still for a week in Florida, something will grow on you”, and this tree amply illustrates the point. Remember, an epiphyte lives ON the host plant, but is not a parasite. It’s using the host for physical support and sometimes to get closer to the daylight, but is not taking nutrients from its host.

On the outbound journey along the trail, I came across a tree that had fallen from natural causes, as far as I could tell. There on the fallen tree were two cardinal air plants (shown below, left). It’s a little unusual for them to be blooming in mid-to-late April, but they can bloom at any time. While the loss of their host habitat is unfortunate and will likely end in their demise, it does give us the opportunity to view the flowers up close, which on a standing tree would be several feet above the ground. One can see the purple bract and the white-colored flowers at the very core on the close-up below, right.

cardinal air plants

A fallen tree on the north side of the tram, housing two cardinal air plants (left). On the right is a close up of a cardinal air plant (Tillandsia fusciculata) bloom.

For those who are here only in the winter season, opportunities are limited by the drier weather to see resurrection fern in its full glory. Commonly growing in the swamp, this epiphytic fern has an interesting strategy for survival. In dry times it will wilt, and it is easy to conclude that the plant had died from dehydration. However, stimulated by even just a few water drops, the plant will begin to resurrect itself, and following a full-blown rainfall, perhaps as little as one hour is sufficient for the fern to start a return to its full glory.

resurrection fern

This tree carries a full complement of resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), one day after rain fell.

Spring is what draws many of us north at the end of season. April is spring in Florida too, and the warmer and wetter weather brings a lot of changes to the park. For example, April sees the return of insects that have been absent or dormant for most of the winter. Mosquitoes of course are considered the quintessential Florida insect, as unwelcome as they may be. I was fortunate on this day that we have yet to receive sufficient rain for them to emerge in their full glory, although a few pioneers left me with one or two itches.

yellow-red dragonflyDragonflies are members of a far more well-received insect family. I always enjoy the various dragonfly species that share Florida summers with us. The University of Florida Gardening Solutions web site tells us there are over 100 species of dragonflies found in Florida, and I can believe it. Each species seems to have a distinctive season, and they come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Dragonflies spend much of their life in a larval stage in water, where they are voracious predators on many other larval forms, including mosquitoes! On this day a yellow-red colored species had recently hatched, and they were enjoying spreading their wings and getting used to the dry phase of their life cycle. The one shown here was enjoying the sunshine from its perch on a blade of grass.


sabal palmThis sabal (or cabbage) palm was another showcase for Fakahatchee’s epiphytic species. On the left-hand side of the tree we see one species of a large genus of epiphytic ferns (Vittaria spp.), known as shoestring fern, while on the right is a vanilla orchid (Vanilla phaeantha). Yes, the seed pods from vanilla orchids are the source of that distinctive flavoring.

Vanilla orchids are grown for commercial exploitation elsewhere in the world, particularly in Indonesia and Madagascar. Cultivation is a very intensive activity. Flowers bloom for one day and require hand pollination to ensure a high yield. Cultivated varieties have far more intense flavor profiles compared to wild plant’s pods. If you feel the urge to have a go at growing them, the plants are widely available at nurseries and via the internet, but the translation is: Don’t bother trying to grow these at home unless you want them for the novelty.

Many of us are familiar with the life cycle of a strangler fig, also found in the Fakahatchee. Their seed grows in the upper reaches of a tree; the roots descend from above and then grow into the ground. In other words, the strangler fig starts its life as an epiphyte, but ends up as a ground-rooted plant.

Vanillas follow the opposite strategy. A young vanilla plant sends out vines in many directions, some of which will hopefully climb available trees. Once the plant has established itself on a tree, the roots and ground-trailing parts of the plant will wither, and the Vanilla will spend the remainder of its life as an epiphyte.

I hope this gives our readers a sense of the variety of spring plant life on a short trail with easy access, enjoyable to anyone with even very modest hiking skills and enthusiasm. Keep your eyes and ears open; spotters have observed several of the charismatic fauna mentioned on or around this trail. Good luck!

All photos by Andrew Tyler. Adrew Tyler is a former FOF Board Member. 

Boardwalk Expansion Project permit issued

Collier County issued a permit dated April 10, 2019 to George F. Young Inc., the engineering firm in Gainesville retained by DEP for the Boardwalk Expansion Project. Finally this meant that the engineer had satisfied the numerous requests “for more information” from Collier County. When Boardwalk Expansion Champion Tom Maish was handed a copy of the Collier County permit letter, he was dumbfounded – he’s been promoting this project for ten years!

So what’s next? Collier County’s permit letter states “Permits from other agencies having jurisdiction over this project shall be obtained prior to start of construction” and “A pre-construction meeting is required by code prior to the start of construction.” So, more permits are required to start the project.

On April 11 we were told by DEP that the Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is waiting on comments from the Boardwalk’s neighbors, the Miccosukee Tribe. This comment letter is required to issue a USACE permit to DEP Bureau of Design and Construction (BDC). Until this is done BDC cannot bid the project out for construction. Keep checking our website for more updates.

Accessibility and Inclusion Policy

The Friends of Fakahatchee celebrate a culture of inclusion in the Florida StateParks, and all programs and activities are offered within the intent and spirit of the American with Disabilities Act and the Florida Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Implementation Act.

A complete resource of the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks Accessibility Policy is available at the following links:  (service animals)

Special accommodation requests for the Friends of Fakahatchee Tours should be made directly to the Friends of Fakahatchee at 239-695-1023.

Official FOF Swamp Walks

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Friends of FakahatcheeIf you want to get your feet wet, our Introduction to Swamp Walk with Tram Tour combines the best of both worlds. Want to get wetter? Our longer Naturalist-led Swamp Walk may be for you. If you truly want to immerse yourself in the Fakahatchee, go for the Biologist Swamp Walk, which takes place six miles into the Preserve.

Register Now for Tours and Events

Introduction to Swamp Walk with Tram Tour

This tour combines elements of our tram tours with our swamp walks to give participants a wonderful introduction to the Fakahatchee. Our experienced volunteer naturalists leading the group share their knowledge and insights about the Fakahatchee’s flora and fauna on both wet and dry portions of the adventure.

Each Tram Tour begins with a narrated ride on the Friends’ Ghost Rider tram to the site of the swamp walk, about 30 minutes. After 90 or so minutes of guided walking through the swamp, participants board the tram for the return trip, for a total of about 2 1/2 hours.

Participants will be required to sign a standard release of liability form. Participants should be sure to wear sturdy lace-up shoes (no sandals!) and long pants. Bring a set of dry clothes; you can change in the visitors restrooms for the drive home. Dress appropriately for the weather.

The Tram Tour with Swamp Walk is $60 per person. For more information, to see available dates, and to purchase tickets visit the Eventbrite page for the Introduction to Swamp Walk with Tram Tour.

Naturalist-led Swamp Walk

This swamp walk will immerse you in the beauty and diversity of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. For many visitors, a Friends of Fakahatchee Swamp Walk is the highlight of their Florida visit. Led by one of our experienced volunteer naturalists, participants wade in cool water for half a day observing the native wildlife and plants in the heart of the Fakahatchee.

This is a long, and at times strenuous walk. Swamp walkers should wear long pants and lace-up boots or sneakers – no sandals, waders or open-top boots. A hat and long-sleeved shirt are also recommended. Bring water, snacks, or lunch. Bring bug repellent if you are sensitive. Put anything you do not want to get wet in zip-lock plastic bags. Bring a set of dry clothes; you can change in the visitors restrooms for the drive home.

The Naturalist-led Swamp Walk is $80 per person. For more information, to see available dates, and to purchase tickets visit the Eventbrite page for the Introduction to Naturalist-led Swamp Walk.

Biologist Swamp Walk

This swamp walk is led by the Fakahatchee Preserve State Biologist, who has conducted more than 500 swamp walks. The swamp walk takes place six miles into the Preserve and will immerse you in the beauty and diversity of the largest State Park in Florida. The Park Biologist will encourage you to assist him in locating flora and fauna, helping to contribute to the collection of data for ongoing research.

This is a long, strenuous walk into the heart of the Fakahatchee Preserve. Participants wade in cool water up to mid-thighs for half a day observing the native wildlife and plants in the Fakahatchee Strand.

Swamp walkers are required to wear long pants and lace-up boots or sneakers – no sandals, waders or open-top boots. A hat and long-sleeved shirt are also recommended. Bring water, snacks, or lunch. Bring bug repellent if you are sensitive. Put anything you do not want to get wet in zip-lock plastic bags. Bring a set of dry clothes; you can change in the visitors restrooms for the drive home.

The Biologist Swamp Walk is $90 per person. For more information, to see available dates, and to purchase tickets visit the Eventbrite page for the Biologist Swamp Walk .

FOF 20th anniversary luncheon celebration looks back at history and ahead to bright future

Several Past Presidents joined FOF in celebrating its 20th anniversary. Left to right: Incoming FOF President Glen Stacell, with FOF Past-Presidents Elsie Caldwell, Patrick Higgins, Patty Huff, John Elting, Francine Stevens, Tom Maish.

by Bruce Bunch

The Friends of Fakahatchee celebrated its 20th anniversary in a packed dining room at the Everglades Adventure Center in Everglades City the afternoon of December 7. There was ample time to greet old friends and make new ones before the program hosted by FOF Executive Director Francine Stevens.

Among our many honored guests who were able to attend were most of FOF’s past Presidents, along with Greg Toppin, the first Park Manager to work with the Friends. We also welcomed three of our new Permitted Tour Operators who were able to attend.

Stevens started the meeting with a standing ovation for Tom Maish in recognition of his “impressive tenacity” in spearheading the Boardwalk Expansion Project, which had its groundbreaking earlier the day. “We were sensitive about lobbying for it,” Stevens said, “but then former park director Donald Forgione told us we could educate anyone about the project and we were off to the races.” Said Maish as everyone sat down: “It was a real team effort. A lot of volunteers made this happen.”

Stevens said the Friends of Fakahatchee was incorporated in May of 1998 with Roger Dykstra as President, Park Manager Greg Toppin as Vice President, Barbara Lewinski as Secretary, Alan Caldwell as Treasurer, and Brian Donohue and Elsa Caldwell as board members. “A year later, they had $2,540 in donations,” she said. “Last year, we provided more than $70,000 in park support.”

FOF President Patrick Higgins then presented the group’s Mel Finn Award in recognition of Mrs. Jane Park’s outstanding efforts to save the Fakahatchee from real estate development “In the early 1960’s years before our organization existed,” he said, “she was working tirelessly to preserve the Fakahatchee as Chairman of the Junior Women’s Club. She organized an aggressive letter writing campaign and presented a petition to the state in support of preservation on a roll of paper 175 feet long.” Noted Stevens: “Jane does not brag, so we have to brag for her.”

Featured speaker Eric Draper, Director of Florida State Parks, praised the contributions of Mrs. Parks, Franklin Adams and his mentor former Florida Park Director Ney Landrum in saving the Fakahatchee for future generations “The Parks Department deeply appreciates the Friends organizations,” he said. “You are laying down a path for the people behind you.”

FOF Historian Franklin Adams shared his Fakahatchee memories with the group. He read from a 1964 letter from Mel Finn to Jane Parks assuring her that “we will be successful” in the efforts to preserve the Fakahatchee. He recalled how then Park Manager Greg Toppin posted a notice on a church bulletin board in 1998 that lead to the formation of the Friends of Fakahatchee. Several months later FOF volunteers were clearing exotics in the park.

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Permitted Tour Operators Dillon Griffith of Ivey House and Kyle Mc Kenzie of Adventure Paddle Tours, Pete Corradino of Everglades Day Safari, with Executive Director Francine Stevens and Incoming FOF President Glen Stacell.

Autumn in the Fakahatchee

by Patrick Higgins

Autumn has come to the Fakahatchee; not with the spectacular color display of the northern woods but nevertheless it’s here. You just have to look a little closer for subtler signs, and I don’t mean the proliferation of out-of-state license plates. In early October it seemed like mother nature had suddenly turned off the tap and we went instantly to the brilliant blue cloudless skies of the dry season and the cooler nights of autumn.

Here though in southwest Florida, nearer the equator, the shortening days of autumn have a less dramatic effect on foliage than up north. Cooling doesn’t become significant until much later in the season, so it’s the dry-down that has biggest impact. We see one last fling from many plants and a super abundance of food. Holly, beautyberry, myrsine, sabal palm and wild coffee are laden with fruit, and our oaks are beginning to produce a welcome bounty of acorns. This comes at the very time when the nutritional value of our prairie grasses are ebbing to its lowest.

Even though they don’t hibernate, our Florida black bears – in response to primordial patterns – will be fattening up on this excess. The bears are preparing for ‘winter’ denning from late December through March, when they will reduce activity and the females will cub.

Already the water has left our marl prairies. Drying periphyton is leaving a khaki film that will add minutely to the very thin soil layer. Muhly grass is beginning to cast a purple haze over the grasslands, especially in areas that were burnt earlier in the year.

autumn-phragmitesAlong the lower sections of Jane’s Scenic Drive there’s a lushness of impending senescence and an explosion of flowering in a rush to set seed. Tall, tasseled phragmites are bending to autumn winds, and masses of broom sedge are spreading their fluffy seeds. Spikes of goldenrod are adding color amongst the delicate white umbels of water dropwort that remind me of Queen Anne’s lace back home in England. There’s a riot of creamy-white climbing hempvine covering almost everything, and the needles of lonely dwarf pond cypress are browning.

Image by Rita Bauer.

In the swamp, clamshell orchids are blooming under an already thinning canopy. Pop ash are casting off their leaves and the normally seasonally confused red maples seem to be getting their act together. Carolina willow just gives up: its leaves blacken, whither and quickly drop off. Dogwood foliage has a pretty scruffy end too, but the undersides of giant leather fern fronds now have a glow of golden brown spores.

Through a combination of evaporation and a fresh infusion of cypress branchlets, the water is darkening to the color of stewed tea. Our snakes are a little more visible in autumn as they climb more frequently out of cooler water onto old stumps or cypress knees to thermoregulate.

autumn-climbing-asterAlong our trams, poison ivy and Virginia creeper are reddening, and the saltbush have a dusting of white flowers. Fresh, green toothpetal orchid stalks are thrusting upwards out of the leaf litter. There’s a profusion of buckeye butterflies, their numbers augmented by northern migrants. I also notice quite a few ruddy dagger-wings visiting the purple-tinged climbing asters which are now at their peak.

Image by Patrick Higgins.There’s still plenty of water about elsewhere, so there aren’t yet huge congregations of wading birds in the Fakahatchee. However, at the very beginning of Jane’s Scenic Drive, just before the park entrance where the borrow ditch is most shallow, a mixed flock of ibis and egrets are feasting on newly concentrated prey and roosting in nearby trees in between.

As the season and dry-down progresses, so they will advance up the Drive until they reach the deepest sections of the borrow ditch. Their large numbers by then will produce enough phosphate-rich guano to sustain the out of place cattails for another season.

Our swallowtail kites are long gone, but I saw my first wheeling flight of white pelicans, newly arriving from the western lakes. The signs however are not just visual; there’s the rattling of dried leaves and seed pods in the wind, and I think I heard the faint turkey-like wattle of distant Sandhill cranes. So we do have seasonal change, it’s just a little bit slower and only apparent in the detail.

Patrick Higgins with an apple snail. Photo by Robert Fisher.

Patrick Higgins with an apple snail. Photo by Robert Fisher.

Patrick Higgins is a National Association of Interpretation Certified Interpreter, Vice-President of the Friends of Fakahatchee and Project Manager for the development of the Boardwalk Master Interpretive Plan.