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Saving the swamps

Posted Tuesday, January 8, 2013, at 8:29 AM

A little blue heron seems to show off for visitors at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida. The sanctuary, set up in 1954, has over 200 species of birds and wildlife that call it home.
On the Road

Oldtimers in our area of Southeast Missouri are not unfamiliar with the pristine wildernesses that were once a part of this region. A drive west to Zalma. Mo. will take the motorist past a sign which identifies what was once the Dark Cypress Swamp, a region where, history tells us, hunters could get lost. Now, because of the draining of the swamps, this region no longer exists.

A vacation trip to southern Florida will offer the curious visitor a glimpse into such a wilderness which has been preserved. In this swampland, a 700-year-old bald cypress tree towers 130 feet above the 3-mile boardwalk, and alligators lurk in the murky waters.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida was established by the National Audubon Society and volunteers in 1954, just barely escaping the lumber crews who were coming to level it.

T0day, the sanctuary houses the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress in the country.

Additionally, it is the site of the largest nesting federally endangered wood stork population in the world.

The sanctuary can be credited with saving endangered species, such as the roseate spoonbill, which was slaughtered almost to extinction in 1915 by plume hunters, greedy for feathers for ladies' hats.

The early history of the 14,000-acre preserve is fascinating, as there were no roads in the area, and early supporters had to hike in, often wading chest deep in the swamp to explore the "lettuce lake" and other inaccessible regions. The building of the boardwalk was quite an accomplishment, which opened the sanctuary to the public in 1960.

Visitors walk through several distinct habitats on the maze of boardwalks--marshes, bald cypress forests, pond cypress forests, pine flatwoods, and wet prairies.

The preserve harbors over 200 species of birds and other wildlife. Some of the more uncommon birds are the roseate spoonbill, the great egret, the wood stork, the American bittern, the white ibis, the pileated woodpecker, the limpkin, and the swallow-tailed kite. Some of the little blue herons are so tame that they fly up on the boardwalk and show off for photographers. The Ahinga, or "snakebird," can be seen diving in the water to catch fish and resting on branches to dry its black and silver wings.

Of particular interest to visitors over the last three years has been a protective mama alligator, who has been watching over her brood of 27 or so yellow-striped babies in one of the sloughs. Game wardens on watch near the slough tell visitors that a mother alligator will guard her brood until they are about two years old, chasing off the males who try to eat the babies.

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center is open 365 days a week and is very well attended and supported by volunteers and guests.

For the small price of $12.00, visitors can spend two days exploring a living museum piece that captures the Western Everglades as they once were, before hoards of people overcrowded the landscape.

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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