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Southeast Florida


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Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Bahia Honda State Park
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area
Biscayne National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park
Everglades National Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Site
Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge
Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area
Indian Key State Historic Site
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John U. Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Key West National Wildlife Refuge
Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve
Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Site
Long Key State Park
National Key Deer Refuge
Oleta River State Recreation Area
St. Lucie Inlet State Preserve
The Barnacle State Historic Site

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General Information

Biscayne National Park
Copyright: National Park Service
Biscayne National Park
Description - Water in South Florida once flowed freely from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and southward over low-lying lands to the estuaries of Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and Florida Bay. This shallow, slow-moving sheet of water covered almost 11,000 square miles, creating a mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock, and forested uplands. For thousands of years this intricate system evolved into a finely balanced ecosystem that formed the biological infrastructure for the southern half of the state.

Early colonial settlers and land developers viewed the area as a worthless swamp in need of reclamation. The dream of draining the swampland took hold in the first half of the 1800s. By the 1880s, developers started digging drainage canals, which took place without an understanding of the dynamics of the ecosystem and were generally inadequate for the task. They caused localized silting problems, but overall the ecosystem was resilient enough to sustain itself.

Today, a stunning array of flora and fauna live amid the region's unique habitat. Symbolizing the region is Everglades National Park. With nearly 1.5 million acres, the park's unique wilderness offers impressive, unsurpassed wildlife and bird watching opportunities. Sawgrass, mangroves and hammocks harbor endangered species including the American crocodile and key deer. Parks such as Blowing Rocks Preserve and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park support nesting sea turtles. Biscayne National Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park protect America's finest specimens of coral reef. Southeast Florida is also the site of fossil bones dating as far back as 50,000 years. Historical sites include Fort Zachary Taylor, Fort Jefferson, the restored lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area, and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.

Attractions - In 1948, the United States Congress authorized the Central and South Florida Project for the construction of an elaborate system of roads, canals, levees, and water-control structures stretching throughout South Florida. Constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and sponsored by the Central and Southern Flood Control District (later redesignated the South Florida Water Management District), the project purposes were to provide water and flood protection for urban and agricultural lands, a water supply for Everglades National Park, the preservation of fish and wildlife habitat, facilitate navigation and recreation, and the prevention of saltwater intrusion. While the project still provides many of the intended benefits, the alteration of regional wetland areas, estuaries, and bays - combined with increasing population pressures and changing land uses - has significantly degraded the natural system.

Today 50% of South Florida's original wetland areas no longer exist. The numbers of wading birds, such as egrets, herons, and ibises, have been reduced by 90%. Entire populations of animals, including the manatee, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, the Miami blackheaded snake, the wood stork, and the Florida panther, are at risk of disappearing. Exotic pest plants such as melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, and Australian pine have invaded natural areas, choking out native plants and altering habitats. Massive die-offs of seagrass beds in Florida Bay have been followed by the extensive losses of wading birds, fish, shrimp, sponges, and mangroves. These grim indicators warn of a system under assault and in jeopardy of collapse.

In response to public concern about development and continued ecosystem degradation, all levels of government have organized efforts to work towards a balanced and sustainable South Florida ecosystem. In 1972, the Florida legislature passed several environmental and growth management laws, including the Land Conservation Act, which authorizes the issuance of state bonds for the purchase of environmentally endangered and recreation lands. In 1983, Florida Governor Bob Graham launched the "Save Our Everglades" program - a partnership between the South Florida Water Management District and federal and state governmental agencies. In 1985, the state of Florida also strengthened existing planning laws by adopting the "Local Government Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulation." The 1987 Surface Water Improvement and Management Act (SWIM) requires each Florida water management district to develop plans to clean up and preserve rivers, lakes, estuaries, and bays affected by water districts. SWIM plans for Lake Okeechobee and Biscayne Bay were completed and implemented. In 1993, the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was founded through an interagency agreement between the six federal departments involved in restoring and protecting the ecosystem. Congress formally established the task force in 1996 and broadened its membership to include federal and state agencies, local governments, and Miccosukee and Seminole tribal representatives. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was authorized, through the 1992 and 1996 Water Resources Development Acts, to undertake a comprehensive review of the Central & Southern Project. The Corps was asked to develop a comprehensive plan to restore and preserve the natural ecosystem of South Florida, while still providing for urban and agricultural water and flood control needs. The major, long-term redesign of the regional water management system was formally presented to the U.S. Congress in July 1999. The plan calls for a series of water system improvement projects over more than 20 years, with an estimated cost of $7.8 billion.

Southeast Florida is a cultural mix that includes races from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Columbia, South and Central America, China, Japan, Jamaica, Bahamas, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago and several other counties. This population blend is supported through attractions such as the Asian Arts Festival, At-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Seminole Okalee Indian Village, Japanese Gardens in Palm Beach County, the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti, and historical sites including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the recently renovated Deering Estate at Cutler. Several zoos offer sights of hundreds of exotic plants and animals. Public lands include five national wildlife refuges, a dozen state parks, preserves and recreation areas, and three national parks.

Recreation - Southeast Florida, including the Florida Keys offers compelling recreation. Visitors will find America's most beautiful coral reefs where snorkeling and scuba diving abound. Bird-watching is some of the best in the nation. Viewing numerous species of endangered wildlife is offered through private and public tours. Visiting botanical gardens, surf fishing, paddling a 50-mile canoe excursion within the Everglades are several favorites. Visitors will also find an assortment of recreations including a number of multi-cultural heritage sites, glass-bottom boat tours at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and a ranger-guided tour of the Second Seminole War site at Indian Key State Historic Site. Nature enthusiasts enjoy viewing the fragile dune vegetation at Blowing Rocks Preserve or exploring mangroves at Biscayne National Park and Bahia Honda State Park. This and much more is offered year-round in the Sunshine State.

Climate - Southern Florida lies within a subtropical climate. It is usually hot and humid in the summer with brief afternoon thundershowers. It is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit with averages reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (above 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 18 Celsius). The average precipitation for the southeast area is more than 60 inches per year. The powerful rays of the sun make it a good idea to wear hats and sunglasses along with using a SPF-15 (or above) sunscreen when planning outdoor activities.

Location - Southeast Florida begins along the eastern shores of Lake Okeechobee stretching over to Hutchinson Island and following the Atlantic Coast south bound all the way to Key West. The western boundary falls along the Big Cypress National Preserve running north to the southwestern shores of Lake Okeechobee.


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More Information

Contact Information:
VISIT FLORIDA, P.O. Box 1100 , Tallahassee, FL, 32302-1100, Phone: 888-7-FLAUSA

Additional Information:
Florida Travel Regions - From Pensacola to Jacksonville, from Daytona to Tampa to the Florida Keys, these regions are home to State Parks, State Recreation Areas, State Archeological Sites, National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and much more.

Links:
VISIT FLORIDA - The official tourism marketing agency for the state of Florida.

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