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  • EvergladesEverglades Miami, Florida
    The Everglades, the subtropical wetlands of southern Florida, which also contains the southern half of a huge watershed, beginning near Orlando, with the Kissimmee River, that then flows into the immense but shallow Lake Okeechobee. The water that leaves the lake, during the summer wet season starts to form into a slow moving river that is 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long, going south over a limestone shelf into Florida Bay at the southern tip of the state. The glades are formed by fire and water, with frequent flooding in the wet season and hot draught in the dry season. It was Marjory Stoneman Douglas the writer who made the term, "river of grass" a popular saying that does describe the sawgrass marshes, that belong to a very complex system of ecosystems that encompass cypress swamps, tropical hardwood hammocks, an estuarine mangrove forest of the Ten Thousand Islands, pine rockland and the marine environment of the Florida Bay.  Ideas to drain areas of the Everglades had been suggested as early as 1848, but it wasn't tried until 1882, with canals built to accommodate that idea. During the first half of the 20th century these canals helped increase the economy, which in turn brought in land developers, but with the continual and yearly hurricanes that caused devastating flooding, the engineers involved in the project began to rethink their remedies. Then in 1947, the Congress created the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project that constructed 1400 miles of levees, canals and flood control devices. South Florida began to grow, as the water was diverted to the cities that grew up and many regions of the glades were changed into beneficial farming lands that could and did produce sugarcane. Soon, almost half of the original everglades area had been transformed into farmland or cities. Then a major airport for the area was suggested to be built just north of the Everglades National Park, but an environmental study said the plan would destroy the ecosystem, so that was scrapped, but restoring the glades began to gain momentum. During the 1970s, many areas of the country were realizing the damages that had been done, thoughtlessly, to the environment, which in turn caused other problems, so this became a priority all over. UNESCO and the Ramsar Convention decided the everglades were one of three wetlands in the world that had global importance. Restoration began in earnest in the 1980s, beginning with the removal of a canal that had straightened the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee, a huge water reservoir for southern Florida, was now of major concern. The continual deterioration of the environment soon became evident that it was effecting the quality of life for southern Florida urban areas and in 2000, an expensive and expansive plan to restore the Everglades was passed by Congress. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was signed into law; but, unfortunately, like many bills that have been passed in this new century, the partisan politics that plague them also affected this plan. Only time will tell, especially since the biggest polluters of the Everglades were and are the sugarcane plantation owners, who managed to wriggle out of paying for any of the repairs needed to clean up the Everglades, and who continue to be the main polluters of that marvelous body of water.

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  • Miami MetrozooMiami Metrozoo Miami, Florida
    The biggest and oldest zoological garden in the state of Florida is the Miami Metrozoo, where more than 1200 animals live and thrive in the only subtropical zoo in the United States. Sitting on 740 acres of unincorporated land in the Miami-Dade County, just southwest of Miami, more than 80 exhibits are marvelously shown on the 300 developed acres of the entire park. The zoo began in 1948 when a goat, 2 black bears and 3 monkeys were bought from a stranded road show by the city; and became the nucleus of the Crandon Park Zoo, on the island of Key Biscayne. Hurricane Betsy came ashore in 1965 and killed 250 of these precious critters. Once the aftermath of the hurricane was cleaned up, Dade Country officials applied for 600 acres of land by the Richmond Naval Air Station in 1970. Building started in 1975, and the grand opening of Asia, the first big exhibit opened in 1981. Set on 200 acres, 38 displays were shown to the arriving public and by 1987, the zoo had grown to its present size and had become one of the best 25 zoos in the nation. Again, in 1992, the devastation of the hurricanes hit landfall, this time it was Andrew, and he hit hard. The restoration took years to recover from, as those that have been in any kind of hurricane can tell you; New Orleans is still cleaning and rebuilding from their hurricane, Katrina. Amazon and Beyond opened in 2008, with 27 acres devoted to the fauna and flora of tropical Americas, with highlighted animals like the jaguar, giant anteaters, harpy eagles, anacondas and giant river otters. In 2006, voters approved an expansion for the zoo, that included a water park and family oriented hotel next to the zoo so more people would come, as attendance has declined since Andrew.

January 11, 2011