JAN. 2013 NOTE: Due to construction at the nearby Florida Power and Light plant, no tours are currently offered. Florida Rambler was told visitors should check back in a few weeks.
For almost 10 years, the 1,000-year-old bald cypress trees have been carefully guarded behind locked gates. Now you can see them.
This week, a rare piece of old growth cypress forest, the Barley Barber Swamp, opened to the public again. It was closed after 9-11 because of tightened security around the nearby Florida Power and Light plant near Indiantown.
You can’t just stop by the Barley Barber Swamp and you can’t wander on your own. Visitors must reserve a spot on a free guided tour and stay with the group as it slowly walks the 1.1 mile boardwalk.
The highlight of the walk are several huge and ancient cypress trees — among the largest in the United States — but the entire walk traverses a lovely landscape thick with ferns and draped with epiphytes. Along the way, you also see a mound built by ancient Indians. If you’re lucky (and we were) you may spot one of the bald eagles that nest on the FPL land.
The guided nature of the tour is both a strength and weakness. The environmental educator guide can point out the delicate whisk fern growing in the giant cypress, and lots of other plants and animals along the way. The downside: Less opportunity to experience the solitude of the swamp, plus you must proceed at the pace of the group. (If you have just one day for a cypress swamp in South Florida, I’d go to Corkscrew Swamp in Naples.)
To tour Barley Barber, you make reservations and sign in at the Seminole Inn in Indiantown at 772-597-3777. (And, take my advice: Plan to have lunch there before or after your tour. Here’s why.) You’ll be asked for identification and you must sign a waiver. From the inn, you board a bus and on the way to swamp watch an orientation movie.
Tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. (arrive a half hour early for paperwork) Wednesday through Sunday. In January, days may be expanded if demand requires.
The tours are run by the Treasured Lands Foundation with funding from FPL. Executive Director Charles Barrowclough said response to the opening of the swamp has been “overwhelming” with many tours booked in upcoming days.
Re-opening the swamp took a year of negotiation and six months of boardwalk repair and removal of exotic plants, he said. Treasured Lands has plans to offer special events, such as night owl walks, sunrise bird walks and lectures. The foundation expects school groups to visit. (Groups should contact the foundation directly at 772-647-9076.)
Who was Barley Barber? Barrowclough says little is known about him except that he was an early homesteader. The story goes that he disappeared after killing his half-Seminole logging partner over the Indian’s wife. Love those Old Florida stories!
- Barley Barber Swamp
- Nearby hiking: DuPuis Reserve State Forest
- Nearby hiking: Corbett Wildlife Management Area
- Great spot for lunch or overnight: Seminole Inn