Everyone has heard
of the Everglades. Most people know that it’s
an endangered environment. Even so, we all need to
experience the beauty of the place and learn of the
good that it does us in Florida and beyond in order
to ensure that we don’t loose sight of its
importance. A fantastic way to obtain a solid understanding
of this incredible ecosystem is by visiting Gator
Park. Its here that visitors can take a diverting
airboat ride, see some local and non-local animals,
and best of all, walk away with a better appreciation
of this place called the “River of Grass”.
At Gator Park, Captain
Glenn welcomed us all, and wasted
no time collecting us onto the airboat. He helped
us enter the strange contraption and handed out earplugs
that we were all grateful for later. The noise from
the propellers is outrageous. Captain Glenn is a
lover of the Everglades. He even has his own website,
www.aaof.us, where he states, “Nature Rules”!
Captain Glenn’s nickname is Gator Man, appropriately
named since he has a knack with these beautiful but
misunderstood animals. As soon as we departed from
the dock, Captain Glenn yelped, and a decently sized
alligator came out to greet the airboat. He proceeded
to describe the American Alligator. He says that
the habitat range of the American Alligator extends
from coastal swamps in North and South Carolina to
the tip of southern Florida, then west along the
Gulf Coast to the mouth of the Rio Grande. Alligators
inland throughout the southern coastal flatland.
They live in freshwater lakes, rivers, and swamps,
reside in brackish water.
The largest alligator
ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long.
The largest alligator ever
recorded anywhere measured 19 feet 2 inches and
was found in
Louisiana. The growth rate of alligators varies
with food availability and temperature. At the northern
limits of its habitat, or when food is scarce,
grow slowly. In Louisiana, where food is abundant,
young alligators can grow about one foot per year
with the greatest growth in the first year. The
an alligator in relation to its length can vary
greatly. One 11 foot 6 inch alligator weighed 591
whereas another alligator measuring 12 feet 1 inch
only 460 pounds.
Alligators eat a wide
variety of foods including insects, crabs, crayfish,
fish, frogs, snails,
coots, grebes, wading birds, raccoons, otters,
deer, and other alligators. The creatures are
to eat dead animals. Although alligators are
carnivorous, they are occasionally seen uprooting
Evidently they do not eat the plant material,
but may be catching
crayfish, snails, and insects living in the mud
at the base of the plants. Alligators feed most
when temperatures are between 73-90°F. If
prey is small, it may be swallowed whole. Otherwise
gator will bite down on it repeatedly. Using
a combination of sharp teeth and tremendously
strong jaw muscles,
it breaks bones or shells so the whole item can
be swallowed. Large prey may also be shaken vigorously
and slapped against the water or shore to rip
pieces. Alligators roll underwater with very
large prey, submerging the victim and drowning
it. The dead
prey is dragged around or guarded for several
days until the meat rots enough to be ripped
Alligators are cold-blooded,
which means that their body temperatures fluctuate
temperature of their surroundings. An advantage
of being cold-blooded
is that little energy needs to be spent in
maintaining a high body temperature, and therefore
is needed. A healthy alligator can go many
food. Alligators can survive in water temperatures
as cold as 36°F and as warm as 98°F,
however they function best within a relatively
After his informational
talk, Captain Glenn turned up the throttle of his
engine and with
a big “swoosh” we
were out of the canal and into the “River of
Grass.” It’s amazing how the airboat skims
across the shallow water. Some spots are only 6 inches
deep, and still, the boat doesn’t get stuck.
Captain Glenn slows and stops the airboat periodically
to explain more about the Everglades. He tells us the
Everglades is really a river. He illustrated that if
you look at a map of Florida, you will see a huge mass
of water below Orlando. It averages 12 feet deep and
covers 730 square miles. This body of water is Lake
Okeechobee, which fills with rain water during Florida’s
rainy season. The lake’s water flows down to
the shallow Everglades. Fifty miles wide in places,
one to three feet deep in the slough's center but only
6 inches deep elsewhere, these waters flow south 100
feet per day across Everglade’s saw
grass, toward mangrove estuaries of the Florida
Bay and Gulf of Mexico.
and animals are adapted to alternating wet and dry
seasons. Water cycle disruptions
ruin crucial feeding and nesting conditions.
During the dry season (December to April), water
drop. Fish migrate to deeper pools. Birds,
alligators, and other predators concentrate around
the pools to
feed on a varied menu of fish, amphibians,
and reptiles. This abundant food source is vital
to many wading birds
that are nesting during the dry season.
In May, spring thunderstorms
signal the beginning of the wet season. A winter
of water yields to a summer landscape
almost completely covered with water. Wildlife
the Everglades. Insects, fish, and alligators
repopulate the 'glades, thus replenishing
the food chain.
the rains cease and the dry cycle begins
Slight changes in elevation (only inches),
water salinity, and soil create entirely
different landscapes, each
with its own community of plants and
The Everglades is a
low, flat plain shaped by the action of water and
season it is
a wide, grassy river. In the winter
season the edge of the slough is dry grassland.
National Park is often characterized
as a water marsh,
very distinct habitats exist within
Once Captain Glenn
finished teaching about this lush and vast body of
with the airboat ride. He glided
around hairpin turns and
put a big smile on everyone’s face with the wind
rushing by. Captain Glenn sat upon his high perch and
seemed un-phased by the speed at which he was cruising.
You could tell he had done this many times. After a
15 – 20 minute ride we returned
to the dock. Captain Glenn gave us
time to ask him questions, and
he kindly thanked us for our time
on the airboat.
At the dock, he directed
us to the
animal educational show held on
of Gator Park. All
the attendees of the airboat strolled
over to the
amphitheater where another guide
introduced us to a large captive
and a small baby alligator that
we were all able to hold. The group
other local creatures of the Everglades,
like toads, scorpions, a baby crocodile,
and a skunk.
educational briefing was entertaining
and an outstanding way
end a visit to Gator Park.
Getting to Gator Park
is interesting because you leave the Florida Turnpike
where you see
of buildings and homes, and you
go west on SW 8th Street. You
yourself…”What are they
talking about, the Everglades aren’t out here,” when
all of sudden the structures disappear and the grass
of the Everglades appears on the horizon. It is interesting
how nature and man are divided. The government just
says, “Here the buildings will stop, and nature
will begin.” I know if
man had the opportunity, he would
build right on top of the Everglades.
goodness for these regulations.
Florida State Road
41 will take you to the entrance of Gator
is very enjoyable. It’s
the original road that connects
east Florida to west Florida.
This is the Florida I really
appreciate. The people that live
in this part
of tropical Florida are the real
lovers of nature. They love the
heat, sweat, animals, and even
insects. Nothing ever seems to
As you approach
Gator Park, you
can’t miss it.
You’ll spot a huge Coca Cola sign outside with
an airboat on top. I pulled in and made my way to the
office and gift store to be greeted by the park’s
It’s great that
we still have locations like Gator Park; places that
teach us the importance of
our precious resources, like
the Florida Everglades. Hopefully, it will make it
to greet future generations
24050 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL 33187
800- 559- 2205
There is a nice gift
store and restaurant to eat
on the property.
Great hint: Go to Gator Park’s website and get
a saving coupon and free gift!
Gator Park is open
everyday! Rain or Shine!
Monday – Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Last show begins at
Adults: $17.99 Children:
(Includes park admission,
airboat ride, and
Visa, Mastercard, American
Discover and Diner's Club
The Pit Bar-B-Q”
This place has been around for a long time. It has
great local B-B-Q and an
authentic local atmosphere.
11am – 10pm
16400 SW 8th Street
Places to Stay
If you have a camper, you can stay on the
grounds of Gator Park for
$30 a day.
The closest hotel with A/C is the
Miccosukee Resort and Gaming.
If you ignore the
gaming and just stay
for a night, it’s not that bad.
500 SW 177th Avenue
Miami, FL 33194
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