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Six Mile Cypress

Slough Preserve

 

Pack breakfast or lunch and head for Lee County's Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, just Southeast of downtown Fort Myers, Florida.

 

A shallow depression in the landscape East of Fort Myers, running Northeast by Southwest, about 9 miles long and less than a half-mile wide forms Six Mile Cypress Slough. It functions like a large natural swale, collecting and carrying freshwater draining from higher elevations around and North into the Estero Bay estuarine system. Since the waters in the slough (pronounced "slew") move so slowly most of the year, to casual viewers it appears as an area with some small lakes and surrounding swampy areas. However, the water always flows, much like a shallow, slow moving river.

 

Florida is replete with these swampy, boggy areas. Most often you'll find a cypress forest within and a tremendous array of wildlife. In the summer most of these areas are daunting with high water, oppressive heat, humidity and biting insects forming a gauntlet with alligators, snakes and other predators of the swamps. It takes a hearty adventurer to hike into the wetlands during Florida's hottest time. However, before and after the rainy season, these same water-soaked lands are pristine, visually beautiful landscapes reminding us of heaven more than the hell of summer swamps.

 

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve offers one a glimpse into the mysteries of the swamp. With its sturdy 1.2 mile boardwalk winding circularly into and out of the slough, the Preserve provides visitors the opportunity to walk the elevated trail above the mud, muck and dangers of the swamp. Along the way careful observers will find evidence of the life within, among the wildlife trails, nests and terrain markings. While almost everyone gets to see the year round resident bird, squirrel and alligator populations in the preserve, with good luck some of the more fortunate hikers will see some of the more obscure animals such as feral pig and white-tailed deer.

 

Browsing through the wetlands of Six Mile Cypress Slough is entertaining and pleasant, whether you go on your own or join a tour presented by the park's staff of able volunteers. Much of the forest floor along the trail is covered with beautiful swamp ferns; here and there large strap ferns have rooted on old stumps. Epiphytes, those tree-dwelling "air plants" everyone seems to love, can be spotted without any trouble. Sage old cypress trees tower above, sometimes sharing the landscape with pines and oaks. Cypress knees are everywhere anchoring some behemoth trees that appear to be at least a few hundred years old. Uncommon and unusual sights exist, like sabal palms growing out of old cypress stumps, elevated above an otherwise unhealthy water line for the tree. Patches of native iris can be found on the higher ground and it's always a treat to find the fire-red flowers of the coral bean blooming in the woods.

 

The well-designed trail is no woodsy thoroughfare, though. Along the way you'll find a small amphitheater, well-built shelters, observation decks and even a photo blind overlooking one of the lakes along the boardwalk. Suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, no one in the family need be left out of the day's adventures. There's even a shortcut for those not willing or able to make the full journey. Back at the entrance visitors will find rest rooms, adequate parking and even a picnic area with a view.

 

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is easily accessible. Located off Six Mile Cypress Parkway between Colonial Blvd. and Daniels Road, it is a few miles Southeast of downtown Fort Myers. Warmer weather visitors should remember to bring insect repellant and sun protection.

Amphitheater and boardwalk at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Amphitheater and boardwalk

 

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve entrance

Six Mile Cypress entrance

 

Young cypress trees at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Young cypress trees

 

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve view of a strap fern on a stump

Strap fern on stump

 

Swamp scene in Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Swamp view

 

Swamp ferns cover forest floor at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Swamp ferns cover forest floor

 

Alligator from camera blind at Six Mile Cypress Slough

Alligator from camera blind

 

American coots at Six Mile Cypress Slough

American coots

 

Observation deck at Gator Lake

Observation deck at Gator Lake

 

Six Mile Cypress Slough covered observation deck

Covered observation deck

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