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Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve.jpg
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Location Collier, Monroe, & Miami-Dade counties, Florida, United States
Nearest city Everglades City, Florida
Area 720,566 acres (2,916.03 km2)
Established October 11, 1974 (1974-October-11)
Visitors 1,181,930 (in 2020)
Governing body National Park Service
Website Big Cypress National Preserve
Rock outcroppings in the prairie north of Concho Billy Trail, in Big Cypress National Preserve
Rock outcroppings in the prairie north of Concho Billy Trail

Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain. The 720,000-acre (2,900 km2) Big Cypress, along with Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when they were established on October 11, 1974. In 2008, Florida film producer Elam Stoltzfus featured the preserve in a PBS documentary.

Big Cypress borders the wet freshwater marl prairies of Everglades National Park to the south, and other state and federally protected cypress country in the west, with water from the Big Cypress flowing south and west into the coastal Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park.

Geography and history of establishment

Big Cypress borders the wet freshwater prairies of Everglades National Park to the south, and other state and federally protected cypress country in the west, with water from the Big Cypress flowing south and west into the coastal Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park. When Everglades National Park was established in 1947, Big Cypress was originally intended to be included; however, because the land had not been purchased from its private owners, Big Cypress was ultimately released from the park system.


Big Cypress has a tropical savannah climate (Aw). Days are some of the hottest in Florida. January has an average high of 78.4 and August has an average high of 94.0 while Miami only averages 76.1 and 90.7. However, nights cool down into the 50s in winter. Means range from 66.5 in January to 84.7 in August. Highs exceed 90 on 159 days per year, while they fall below 70 on just 10. Hardiness zone is 10A, with an average annual minimum of 34. The lowest recorded maximum was 48 in 2010, while the highest minimum on record was 89 in 2005.

Climate data for Oasis ranger station 1981-2010, extremes 1978-present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 90
Average high °F (°C) 78.4
Average low °F (°C) 54.5
Record low °F (°C) 26
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.84
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 7 6 6 6 9 17 17 19 17 11 6 6 127
Source: Nowdata, NWS Miami

Human use and impact

Ecologically, the preserve is slightly more elevated than the western Everglades. Big Cypress was historically occupied by various cultures of Native Americans; the last were the Seminole of the nineteenth century. Their descendants include the federally recognized Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Early European-American settlers hunted herons and egrets, whose feathers were extremely popular with 19th and 20th-century hat-makers in New York and Paris. Poachers hunted American alligators and crocodiles to near extinction. When the timber industry began to operate in the area, it built railroads, and cut and hauled out most of the cypress ecosystem's old growth trees. Portions of the Big Cypress were farmed for winter vegetables.

The search for oil in Florida began in 1901, but with no success. After almost 80 more dry holes had been drilled throughout the state, on September 26, 1943 Humble Oil Company (later to become Exxon) discovered Florida's first producing oil well in the northwest portion of what is now Big Cypress National Preserve. The wells currently produce about 20 barrels of oil per day.

Big Cypress National Preserve differs from Everglades National Park in that, when it was established by law in 1974, the Miccosukee, Seminole and Traditional people were provided with permanent rights to occupy and use the land in traditional ways; in addition, they have first rights to develop income-producing businesses related to the resources and use of the preserve, such as guided tours. They and other hunters may use off-road vehicles, and home and business owners have been permitted to keep their properties in the preserve. As in Everglades National Park, petroleum exploration was permitted within Big Cypress in the authorizing legislation, but plans are under way for the government to buy out the remaining petroleum leases in order to shut down non-governmental commercial access to the environment.

In the 1960s, Native Americans, hunters, and conservationists succeeded at fighting an effort to move Miami International Airport's international flights to a new airport in the Big Cypress area. They followed up with a campaign to have Big Cypress included in the National Parks System. Although construction of the new airport had already begun, it was stopped after one runway was completed. It is now known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport.

Flora and fauna

A cottonmouth crosses an off-road vehicle access road in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The preserve is highly diverse biologically. Dominated by a wet cypress forest, it is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti) and eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), a variety of birds, the Florida panther, (Puma concolor couguar) and the Florida black bear.

The preserve is also home to federally listed endangered species including, the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), and the Florida sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pratensis).

Visiting Big Cypress

Alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve
Alligator sunning below the boardwalk at the Oasis Visitor Center

Twelve campgrounds in Big Cypress are tailored to motor vehicles, where tourists planning overnight stays can park their vehicles and ORVs in designated areas. The southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail is located in Big Cypress, and provides hiking opportunities during the winter months. For nature lovers who don't mind getting their feet wet, hiking throughout Big Cypress is enjoyable in all seasons, with most of the cypress country more hospitable to hikers than the dense sawgrass prairies of the central Everglades. Some of the most beautiful wading and walking can be found in cypress strands and prairies between the Loop Road and the Tamiami Trail.

Because alligators are numerous and often large, wading through the cypress country requires constant alertness. The preserve's visitor center offers an educational video about the surroundings. Rangers often lead hikes in the dry winter months, as well as canoe trips and bicycle tours.

Hunting is a long-established recreational activity in the area and is protected in the preserve's charter. Hunters were instrumental in protecting this corner of remote, wild Florida. Hunting activities continue today and include seasons for archery, muzzle loading and general gun. Typical game species are white-tailed deer, turkey and hogs. Alligator hunting is not allowed within the national preserve. Hunting within the preserve is managed cooperatively between the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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