It took many years and a lot of local effort by the Friends of Big Cypress to get this gentle introduction to the wilds of the Big Cypress National Preserve in place, but the Kirby Storter Boardwalk was worth the wait. Although it’s only a half mile long, it’s accessible at all times of year, and yes, you’ll make use of those rain shelters during the summer months, when the swamp is at its finest. Wheelchair and child-friendly, this interpretive walk leads you through typical Big Cypress Swamp habitats from open wet prairie through floodplain forest and cypress slough to an open pond along a sluggish river.
Length: 1 mile
Lat-Long: 25.867931, -81.154018
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: composting toilet
Open dawn to dusk. The trailhead has picnic benches and a composting toilet. The boardwalk gets very slippery when it is wet. Mosquitoes are rarely a problem here if the water is flowing, thanks to the mosquito fish that eat the mosquito larvae.
Headed east on US 41 (Tamiami Trail), the trailhead is 14.1 miles east of the blinker at SR 29, Everglades City. Heading west, it’s 7.5 miles to the west of the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve.
Summer wildflowers put on a show in the open prairies of Big Cypress, and from your perch on the boardwalk, you can look right down into the display, enjoying the pink blossoms of false foxglove and the cone-like blooms of rattlesnake master. Duck potato waves its white flags, and alligator lily peeps up between the needlerush. Off along the distant horizon, you see small cypresses and cypress domes. Just beyond the first screen of nearby cypresses, you can see a chickee hut with seating to get out of the rain and look out over the prairie; it’s a perfect perch for birding in any sort of weather.
As you reach the first curve in the boardwalk past the platform, look down to see surface limestone protruding among the grasses. When it’s wet, mats of periphyton float among the grass. That goopy, spinach-looking stuff is the primary biomass of this habitat. It contains a mix of blue green algae, bacteria, and fungi; it does photosynthesis, filters nitrates from the water, and provides food for creatures in the swamp. When the swamp dries out, water concentrates under these mats and they become a stretchy web, holding in larvae, eggs, and other tiny forms of life until reconstituted by the rainfall.
After a quarter mile, you reach slightly higher ground, and the habitat shifts to a floodplain swamp with pop ash (a favored perch for many types of orchids) and red maples. Floating hearts sway in the dark, slow-moving water. The boardwalk winds away into the cypresses, and the habitat changes again. Here, there’s lots of sword fern and marsh fern, some loblolly bay trees, and even cocoplum—all indicators of the rim of a cypress dome. Strangler figs take root here among the cabbage palms. Pond apples dangle from the wizened branches of the pond apple trees.
The water is darker and clearer as the boardwalk heads into the heart of the cypress slough. Here, the cypress grow taller, and there is a lack of understory vegetation due to the deeper water and stronger flow. Glistening pink, apple snail eggs are obvious near the bases of some cypresses, above the waterline. Bromeliads are abundant. You pass a gnarled pop ash with its own virtual hanging garden of bromeliads. The flow of the water is obvious, and persistently to the southwest. The boardwalk winds its way along this sheet flow. Off to the right, ferns delineate the edge of the slough, where the water is shallower.
The trail ends at a platform with benches along a pond, a wide spot in the otherwise hard-to-distinguish New River, one of the many waterways flowing through slightly deeper depressions in the Big Cypress Swamp. You’ve walked half a mile. From here, take your time to return the same way, watching for signs of wildlife in this watery wilderness.