Corkscrew Swamp – Southwest Florida’s Watershed

The 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home of the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America. Courtesy of the National Audubon Society, visitors can enjoy the sites and sounds of the sanctuary from a 2.25-mile raised wooden boardwalk, which begins with pine Flatwoods. It is here where you can spot the occasional oak tree and hardwood hammock. This is an area where natural fires occur frequently, which is evidenced by the dark, burnt down tree stumps. It is higher than the wetlands, and there are pine trees, palms, and the popular saw palmetto. The atmosphere here can be described as quiet and peaceful. The swamp has been here for thousands of years, and looking at the beauty of the wild flowers, made shivers run down my spine. This is nature at its best.

Visitors who venture further into the swamp, will eventually reach the pond cypress buffer. It separates the prairie/pine Flatwoods from the bald cypress forest. This area lies much lower, as evidenced by the pooling of water and the typical cypress knees. There is a lot of sawgrass, ferns, and a variety of flowering plants to be seen. It is quite impressive to look at the majestic cypress trees, which are close to 600 years old. They reach a height of 130 feet.

Deeper into the cypress swamp, the Audubon Society has built an elevated observation platform, giving the visitor a spectacular view of the central marsh. This is an amazing site; it is so dominant and strong, yet so peaceful. It looked like the storks were nesting here in the tops of the cypress trees. There is a stork soaring high above the ground. He was landing on a tree on the Western edge of the marsh.

Moving along on the boardwalk, visitors are taken to an area called the Lettuce Lakes. Here, the water surface is covered with water lettuce and other floating plants. Turtles are sunbathing alongside these deep, treeless channels, or sloughs. These cypress sloughs lie within a swamp. They are deeper water channels, which are very important to Florida’s ecological communities. Sloughs drain water, but in times of high water, they may actually overflow in all directions. Water levels fluctuate seasonally, and during prolonged droughts, water levels fall even below the deep ponds. Ecologists have learned that timing and distribution of water are critical in a swamp. Because Corkscrew is so flat — the highest spot is only five feet above the bottom of the deepest lake — water sometimes actually runs upstream after a heavy local shower, spreading in all directions to even out the “mound” of water dumped by the storm. Natural drainage is by slow, overland flow to the south. There are no well-defined streams along the southwestern coast, where the swamp merges with the estuarine mangrove forest.

In an ecosystem with hills and rivers, basic hydrology is not too difficult to understand: rain falls and drains into little streams that run into bigger streams. The bigger streams drain into rivers and so on, eventually, into the ocean. Today’s research is aimed at improving our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth’s support systems. But this is not what happens at Corkscrew.

When it rains here the water seems to spread everywhere at first, then begins to seek out the faint indentations between the floorboards and flows slowly along them toward some imperceptibly lower point. Southwest Florida’s floorboards are a series of broad geologic folds that run northwest southeast across the Big Cypress region. These rock ridges have eroded, and the valleys between have filled in with sand and peat. The result is a landscape so flat that water cannot develop sufficient gravity-aided erosive power to carve out river valleys and instead spread overland and travels slowly to the sea as sheet flow. Subtle elevation changes in the topography may have a profound influence on natural and human-made systems. Natural water supply systems collect the rainwater and bring it to us. These natural systems are of utmost importance to our water supply and the quality of life. We all live in a watershed– the area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, or even the ocean — and our individual actions can directly affect it.

What is a Watershed?

It’s the area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. In this area all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is:”that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes, and they cross county, state, and even national boundaries. No matter where we are, we are in a watershed! These natural systems are critically important to our water supply and quality of life.

Source by Christine Oha