Everglades

Everglades Shark Valley 2016: Lots of water, much less wildlife

Bicyclists ride through water at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Bicyclists ride through water at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Sept. 28, 2017:  At this point, the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park is closed due to the effects Hurricane Irma. Check for updates on the park website.

The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park is an odd place this winter:  The alligators and wading birds are scarce and sections of the path are under water.

Thanks to historic winter rain storms, Florida is still drowning in excess water and for the first time in a half century, the South Florida Water Management District is sending water from Lake Okeechobee through the Shark Valley Slough

Bicyclists ride through water at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Gator along the paved pathway at the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Shark Valley is a highly accessible section of the national park off the Tamiami Trail less than an hour west of Miami. It is famous for its 15-mile paved hiking and biking pathway, which in winter is typically lined with dozens of alligators, many basking in the sun on the edge of the path, and hundreds of wading birds.

Not this year, though.

Whereas the waterways along the paved path in Shark Valley normally teem with wildlife in winter, this year the conditions are more like summer. (Here’s a Florida Rambler story about visiting Shark Valley.)

In summer, water is plentiful and wildlife disperses through the Everglades. In a typical winter, water remains only in deeper canals and ponds and thus wildlife is concentrated there.

Bicyclists ride through water at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The highest water at Shark Valley is near the observation tower mid-way along the 15-mile path. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On Saturday, Feb. 27, about two weeks after water managers started sending water through the Shark Valley, the area didn’t have a lot of wildlife but it did have a lot of visitors. The parking lot was full and at least 50 cars were parked for several blocks along the Tamiami Trail outside the park.

Along the Shark Valley trail, one could spot an alligator every few blocks. A ranger commented that normally you’d see 20 alligators per mile in Shark Valley in the winter. This year you might see 20 in the 15 mile loop through the park.

Near the observation tower, water 2 inches deep rushed across the pathway, making it perfectly clear that the Everglades IS a river of grass.

Alligator at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Gators aren’t as plentiful, but visitors still see and appreciate them at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

From the observation tower, where normally dozens of alligators are piled up lounging in the pond, three or four gators were present.

All of the short hiking trails that lead off the main paved path are under water.

The long-term impact of this water flow will play out over the next few months. One ranger commented there is concern about alligators finding dry land for their nests, which are traditionally built in spring.

The only bright spot?

The Everglades’ most unwelcome guest – exotic Burmese pythons that have plagued the park for the last decade – may be suffering too. They’ve been seen taking refuge in the tree tops. There is hope, the ranger said, that some will starve there.

 

Great Blue Heron at Bicyclists ride through water at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

You aren’t as likely to see flocks of birds, but visitors will see a few, like this Great Blue Heron at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

 

More information about Everglades National Park:

Other things to do near Everglades National Park Shark Valley entrance on the Tamiami Trail:

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