Big Cypress National Preserve

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Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve.jpg
Map showing the location of Big Cypress National Preserve
Map showing the location of Big Cypress National Preserve
Location in Florida
Map showing the location of Big Cypress National Preserve
Map showing the location of Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve (the United States)
LocationCollier, Monroe, & Miami-Dade counties, Florida, United States
Nearest cityEverglades City, Florida
Coordinates25°51′32″N 81°02′02″W / 25.85889°N 81.03389°W / 25.85889; -81.03389Coordinates: 25°51′32″N 81°02′02″W / 25.85889°N 81.03389°W / 25.85889; -81.03389
Area720,566 acres (2,916.03 km2)[1]
EstablishedOctober 11, 1974 (1974-October-11)
Visitors1,181,930 (in 2020)[2]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteBig Cypress National Preserve
Rock outcroppings in the prairie north of Concho Billy Trail

Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain. The 720,000-acre (2,900 km2) Big Cypress, along with Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when they were established on October 11, 1974.[3] In 2008, Florida film producer Elam Stoltzfus featured the preserve in a PBS documentary.[4]

Big Cypress borders the wet freshwater marl prairies of Everglades National Park to the south, and other state and federally protected cypress country in the west, with water from the Big Cypress flowing south and west into the coastal Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park.


Archaeology at Platt Island in the preserve shows humans settled there more than two thousand years ago.[5] The Calusa people had an extensive presence in the area when Europeans arrived. Big Cypress was historically occupied by various cultures of Native Americans; the last were the Seminole of the nineteenth century. Their descendants include the federally recognized Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Early European-American settlers hunted herons and egrets, whose feathers were popular with 19th and 20th century hat-makers in New York and Paris. Poachers hunted American alligators and American crocodiles to near extinction. When the timber industry began to operate in the area, it built railroads, and cut and hauled out most of the cypress ecosystem's old growth trees. Portions of the Big Cypress, which is slightly more elevated than the western Everglades, were farmed for winter vegetables.

The search for oil in Florida began in 1901 with no success. After almost 80 dry holes had been drilled throughout the state, on September 26, 1943, Humble Oil Company (later to become Exxon) discovered Florida's first producing oil well in the northwest portion of what is now Big Cypress National Preserve.[6] When Everglades National Park was established in 1947, Big Cypress was originally intended to be included; however, because the land had not been purchased from its private owners, Big Cypress was ultimately released from the park system.

Big Cypress National Preserve differs from Everglades National Park in that, when it was established by law in 1974, the Miccosukee, Seminole and Traditional people were provided with permanent rights to occupy and use the land in traditional ways; in addition, they have first rights to develop income-producing businesses related to the resources and use of the preserve, such as guided tours.[7] They and other hunters[8] may use off-road vehicles, and home and business owners have been permitted to keep their properties in the preserve. As in Everglades National Park, petroleum exploration was permitted within Big Cypress in the authorizing legislation, but plans are under way for the government to buy out the remaining petroleum leases in order to shut down non-governmental commercial access to the environment.[citation needed]

In the 1960s, Native Americans, hunters, and conservationists succeeded at fighting against an effort to move Miami International Airport's international flights to a new airport in the Big Cypress area. They followed up with a campaign to have Big Cypress included in the National Park System. Although construction of the new airport had already begun, it was stopped after one runway was completed. It is now known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport.


Big Cypress has a tropical monsoon climate (Am according to Köppen climate classification), bordering on tropical savanna climate (Aw). Days are some of the hottest in Florida. January has an average high of 78.0 °F (25.6 °C) and August has an average high of 93.6 °F (34.2 °C). However, nights cool down into the 50s °F (low 10s °C) in winter. Means range from 66.5 °F (19.2 °C) in January to 84.7 °F (29.3 °C) in August. Highs exceed 90 °F (32 °C) on 154 days per year, while they fall below 70 °F (21 °C) on just 8 days. Hardiness zone is 10b, with an average annual minimum of 35 °F (2 °C). The lowest recorded daily high was 48 °F (9 °C) in 2010, while the highest low on record was 89 °F (32 °C) in 2005.

Climate data for Oasis Ranger Station, Florida, 1991-2020 normals, extremes 1978-2016
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 90
Average high °F (°C) 78.0
Daily mean °F (°C) 66.5
Average low °F (°C) 55.1
Record low °F (°C) 26
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.92
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 7.0 5.6 5.8 6.1 9.0 18.0 17.6 19.9 17.8 11.3 5.5 6.0 129.6
Source: NOAA[9][10]

Flora and fauna[edit]

A cottonmouth crosses an off-road vehicle access road in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The preserve is highly diverse biologically. It is dominated by a wet cypress forest, but while "few giant cypress third of the swamp is covered with dwarf pond cypress."[11] It is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth and eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a variety of birds, river otter, deer, bobcat, coyote, black bear and cougar.

The preserve is also home to federally listed endangered species including the eastern indigo snake and the Florida sandhill crane.


American alligator sunning below the boardwalk at the Oasis Visitor Center

Twelve campgrounds in Big Cypress are tailored to motor vehicles, where tourists planning overnight stays can park their vehicles and off-road vehicles in designated areas. The southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail is located in Big Cypress, and provides hiking opportunities during the winter months.[12] Hiking throughout Big Cypress is enjoyable in all seasons, with most of the cypress country more hospitable to hikers than the dense sawgrass prairies of the central Everglades. Some of the most beautiful wading and walking can be found in cypress strands and prairies between the Loop Road and the Tamiami Trail.

Wildlife is abundant in the preserve. Most notable and regularly seen, the American alligators can be up to around 12 feet in length. Another notable and endangered animal, the Florida panther calls the Preserve home. Though both generally relatively timid, wading through the cypress country requires constant alertness. Before going out, visit one of the preserve's visitor centers for information on the current conditions and local trails. The visitor centers offer an educational video about the surroundings, also viewable on the Big Cypress YouTube channel. Rangers often lead swamp walk hikes in the dry winter months, as well as canoe trips, and boardwalk talks.[13][failed verification]

Hunting is a long-established recreational activity in the area and is protected in the designation of the area as a Preserve. Hunters were instrumental in protecting this corner of remote, wild Florida. Hunting activities continue today and include seasons for archery, muzzle loading and general gun. Typical game species are white-tailed deer, turkey and hogs. Alligator hunting is not allowed within the national preserve. Hunting within the preserve is managed cooperatively between the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.[8]

Controversy over off-road vehicles[edit]

Burns Lake campground, one of Big Cypress's many seasonal camps designed mainly for R.V.s and ORVs.

Touted as a "recreational paradise" by the Department of the Interior, Big Cypress was created in part to accommodate access with off-road vehicles (ORVs)[14] by the hunters and the Miccosukee and Seminole people who had worked to protect Big Cypress from drainage and development. However, scientists and conservationists have noted an increase in ORV recreation that prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (640 km) of primary trails within the preserve,[15] despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.

According to a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey,

ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife.[16]

Given these conclusions, environmental groups opposed the announcement by park officials in 2006 of a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of more trails is worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.[17]



  1. ^ "Listing of acreage – December 31, 2011" (XLSX). Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14. (National Park Service Acreage Reports)
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service.
  3. ^ "Big Cypress". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  4. ^ "Welcome to Big Cypress Swamp · The Western Everglades". Archived from the original on 2018-10-26. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  5. ^ Widmer, Randolph J. (1988). "The Prehistory of Southwest Florida". Evolution of the Calusa: a Stratified Non-Agricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast. University of Alabama Press. p. 72.
  6. ^ "Florida's First Oil Well - Petroleum History Resources". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  7. ^ National Park Service, James A. Goss, Usual and Customary Use by the Miccosukee and Seminole Indians in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, National Park Service, 1995, pp. 4-5
  8. ^ a b "Hunting - Big Cypress National Preserve (U.S. National Park Service)". 2015-01-05. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  9. ^ "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  10. ^ "Summary of Monthly Normals 1991-2020". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  11. ^ Scott, David (2004). Guide to the National park areas. Guilford, Conn: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-7627-2988-0. OCLC 55075855.
  12. ^ "Hiking - Big Cypress National Preserve (U.S. National Park Service)". 2015-01-05. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  13. ^ "Ranger-Led Activities - Big Cypress National Preserve (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved Aug 30, 2019.
  14. ^ "Off-Road Vehicle Use". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  15. ^ "ORV Access" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  16. ^ "Effects of Public Land Use on Threatened, Endangered, and Ecosystem Restoration Indicator Species' Populations and Habitats in Big Cypress National Preserve". Archived from the original on September 22, 2006. Retrieved October 18, 2006.
  17. ^ "Big Cypress off-road riding will be studied". Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2006.

External links[edit]