By Jeff Klinkenberg

National Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is the Land of the Giants. The trees in the deepest part of the 13,000-acre swamp represent the largest stand of old-growth cypress on earth. Some were here when the Spanish Conquistadors clanked ashore in the 16th century. The oldest living things in the Sunshine State, these trees have survived droughts, lightning strikes and 35 hurricanes during the past 500 years.

Some cypress measure more than 135 feet high. Some measure nearly 40 feet in circumference. Florida has always attracted dreamers, which means the logging companies wanted these trees. But there were no decent roads, and lots of snakes and blood-sucking mosquitoes to keep things interesting, so the men with saws decided to look elsewhere.

The Audubon Society acquired the corkscrew swamp in 1954. Now, after you pay your admission and check out the excellent gift shop, you can walk into the wilderness along a 2.1-mile boardwalk.

That’s right: no need to wet your feet.

When I am feeling too big for my britches, when I have been admiring myself in the mirror perhaps a little too much, the Land of the Giants is a good place to grasp my insignificance.  Humility is good for the soul.

Corkscrew, which gets its name from a twisty river that once flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, is a major tourist attraction and the gateway to the western Everglades City. In the swamp, as I walk through the trees, I listen for pileated woodpeckers, Carolina wrens and barred owls. I look for wood storks, an endangered species that nest among the cypress in the spring, and I listen for pig frogs performing their grunt opera back in the ferns.

Nothing is guaranteed, but I always expect to see alligators. And just because I’m an eccentric old Everglades boy, I always hope to see a venomous cottonmouth moccasin – at a distance. I’ve never been bitten, but I know several people who have. Cottonmouth venom is hard on human flesh. I have a friend who can count his luck on his nine fingers.

Of course, I’m perfectly safe on the boardwalk, though sanctuary manager Jason Lauritsen tells me he has had a few close encounters with toothy reptiles when he has had to venture in the water. For the record, let’s say he speaks softly and carries a big stick.

I have never seen a black bear here, but others have. A few lucky visitors have spotted America’s rarest large mammal, the Florida panther, traipsing down the boardwalk. You’ll want to bring your camera and binoculars and good karma.

Corkscrew is one of those places that looks as if it has existed since the dawn of time.

The swamp is wild and primeval. Even from the boardwalk, it can be a little scary. If a T-Rex came bursting out of the trees, I wouldn’t be surprised. I would just hope that I can run faster than the other people on the boardwalk.

When you go…

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
375 Sanctuary Road West
Naples, FL 34120

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