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Barley Barber: Rare cypress swamp offers free guided tours

Florida hike: Barley Barber Swamp boardwalk

An Indian mound provided higher ground where oak trees thrived

Florida hike: Barley Barber Swamp great bald cypress

Bald cypress believed to be 1,000 years old

For 1,000 years, this rare piece of old growth cypress forest has thrived in this wetland near Indiantown.

Their proximity to a power  plant may have saved them from development, but in the years after 9-11, the location also meant they  were carefully guarded behind locked gates for security reasons. Now you can see them.

Because the area adjoins a Florida Power and Light plant near Indiantown, you still can’t just stop by the Barley Barber Swamp and wander on your own. Visitors must reserve a spot on a free guided tour at least two days in advance 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 via its website. (And, take my advice: Plan to have lunch at the historical Seminole Inn before or after your tour.  Here’s why.) You’ll be asked for photo identification and you must sign a waiver. From the inn, you board a bus and on the way to the swamp watch an orientation movie.

Florida hike: Barley Barber Swamp Indian mound

Treasured Lands Executive Director Charles Barrowclough explains the Indian mound

Florida hike: Barley Barber Swamp tour bus

Barley Barber Swamp tour bus

General public tours are conducted October to May on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and depart from the Seminole Inn at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The tours are run by the Treasured Lands Foundation with funding from FPL. Executive Director Charles Barrowclough said interest in the swamp has been “overwhelming” with many tours booked in advance.

Re-opening the swamp took a year of negotiation and six months of boardwalk repair and removal of exotic plants, he said.

Treasured Lands offers special events, such as twice monthly “Owl Prowls” during the full moon. The Owl Prowls are limited to 16 people and cost $20.

For school groups, 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!

4 Comments

  1. Dennis Bechtol says:

    I called over the holiday’s and learned the tours have been put on hold due to FPL Construction,etc. Is this still the case, or have the tours resumed?

    • Sorry, Dennis: No word yet on when these tours will resume. I was told “keep checking back.” Call the Seminole Inn: 772-597-3777.

  2. Pingback: Historic Florida restaurants: A meal with a story to tell | Florida Rambler

  3. The settlers-murdering-each-other-then-disappearing story is SO Florida. One day you should do an article spoofing all of these swampy myths and legends. I think it would be really popular in gift shops. The only trouble is that they’d BECOME true!

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