2018-01-01 / Arts & Entertainment

Guided swamp walks reveal hidden jewels

By Allyson Webb
Resource Manager
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Swamp tours are available for beginners and advanced hikers. Swamp tours are available for beginners and advanced hikers. Sunlight filters through the canopy overhead, reflecting lazily across the slowly moving waters darkened by tannins. The muted greys and greens of bald cypress are punctuated periodically with brilliant flashes of purples and reds: air plants blooming. A blue-gray gnatcatcher pipes up, chattering excitedly as people pass by, warning other creatures in the area of the intruders to its domain. A gentle breeze pushes through the understory, revealing a hidden gem above, a clamshell orchid, as a fishing spider scurries up the side of an old growth bald cypress. Along the buttress of the same cypress, a cluster of strap ferns reach upward, offering a platform for a green tree frog taking a nap.

It’s not hard to imagine how the Native Americans who lived here all those years ago were able to carve out such rich lives in this amazing area. Life abounds in the swamp.

Being able to explore Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary on foot with a guide is truly a wonder. Sally Stein, director of public programs, takes explorers and avid nature lovers out into the Corkscrew backcountry on swamp walks a handful of times every year. The locations of these tours vary, depending on water levels.

She offers a beginners’ walk and an advanced walk. Both take paying participants on a beautiful but taxing walk over ground and through water; sometimes in the fall the water can reach depths of 3 feet.

The advanced walks are tailored for more experienced hikers and cover more ground, requiring more stamina and agility. The terrain is uneven, as underwater lurk hidden roots, stumps and downed limbs, so hikers must be prepared to navigate around these things.

Guides teach participants about the watershed, the forest and the importance of the old-growth bald cypress that Corkscrew protects. Along the way, people learn more about rare orchids, wildflowers, birds, air plants and much more. Experiencing the swamp completely immersed transports hikers to another world.

Participants must be physically able to walk on uneven and sometimes rough surfaces through water for the time of the program and be able to climb a ladder back onto the boardwalk or onto a vehicle. Each walker must sign a liability waiver, and must be at least 18 to participate in the advanced walk and at least 10 to participate in the beginners’ walk.

For more information including a schedule and cost information, visit corkscrew.audubon.org/programs/corkscrew-swamp-walks.

The sanctuary is open every day from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit corkscrew. audubon.org.

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