Local eco-tour provider wades into the Florida wild.
Scared of the swamp? Intrigued by the swamp? Then explore the swamp. It will forever change you. Florida visitors and residents alike are typically drawn to the beautiful white sandy beaches of the coast. Yet the interior of South Florida contains some of the state’s most spectacular natural landscapes. The Florida Everglades is the largest remaining sub-tropical wilderness in the contiguous United States, unique in the world among wetlands, and awaits your discovery.
Based out of Naples and operating in the western Everglades, Swamp Explorers, Inc. is the new premier eco-tour provider in southwest Florida. Offering swamp walks, hiking, kayaking, and photo safaris in the Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and the Ten Thousand Islands, this is not your typical commercialized Everglades tour. Instead of catching a passing glimpse from the window of a bus, guests receive an intimate personal experience of the natural wonder and beauty that is the Everglades.
Swamp Explorers, Inc. was borne of two peoples’ love of Florida’s wetlands. The owners of the company are also your guides. Famed photographer, Rick Cruz, is a 20-year veteran of nature photography, specializing in Everglades’ landscapes and is celebrated for his documentation of rare and endangered orchid species. Rick’s romance with the swamp was fostered about five years ago when he was invited by Park Biologist,
Mike Owen, to document Ghost orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand. Since then Rick has been trekking through the swamp, nurturing that romance. Rick’s artwork has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums, and has appeared in four PBS Documentary Specials as well as various books and magazines. His images can be viewed online at rickcruzphotography.com or at Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, where they are on permanent display.
Cruz and co-owner, Julie Cardenas, met at Butcher’s Gallery, where they both previously worked and lead swamp walks for the gallery’s annual Muck-About event.
Falling in love with a swamp may sound like a crazy idea. But thats just what landscape photographer Clyde Butcher has done and the results of that love affair are stunning.
Butchers incredibly detailed black and white photographs of the Everglades and other natural areas in Florida have earned him admirers around the world. His images are rich and inviting, filled with emotion and wonder.
Florida Panther (Puma concolor) in Collier Seminole State Park Raised in Naples, Julie has cultivated her passion for exploring the natural and cultural wonders of the world since childhood. Following a diverse travel career that spanned more than 20 years across five continents, Julie began freelancing as a guide in her native Everglades about 5 years ago. Julie is actively involved as a volunteer for both Rookery Bay NERR and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, where she currently serves on the Board of the Friends of Fakahatchee. Graduating Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in Biology from Florida Gulf Coast University, Julie also holds certificates as a Florida Master Naturalist and NAI Certified Interpretive Guide.
A shared passion for our unique ecosystem, a strong conservation ethic, and a commitment to environmental educational and sustainable tourism are what these two have brought to the table with the launching of Swamp Explorers, Inc. "These are our core principles and driving force," says Cardenas. "We hope to inspire others through interpretation of our rich natural history and cultural heritage." According to Cruz, the only way to make a connection with the environment is to experience it as the Native Americans and original Gladesmen have. "We want to bridge that connection between people and their environment."
It has been said that only by getting wet can one get into the heart of the Everglades. Enter a mosaic of aquatic landscapes with Swamp Explorers, Inc. and encounter plants and animals found nowhere else. Discover South Florida’s pristine estuary system, famed for its abundant bird rookeries and rich marine life on one of their kayak tours. Understand and appreciate nature in order to capture her essence through photography on one of their photo safaris. Step off the "beaten path" and into the watery wilderness for a truly unique experience shared by few on one of their swamp walks.
"Swamp walks are our specialty," the pair report. "We just got our permit to conduct hiking and photo tours in the Big Cypress National Preserve and we are currently the only tour operator with access to the Loop Road Unit." There is a cypress dome there that Cardenas describes as "a truly magical, primordial place that captivates the senses."
Experience the REAL Florida. For an educational adventure deep into the Everglades, contact Swamp Explorers, Inc. at (239) 961-1151 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit their website at www.swampexplorers.com.
This story is contributed by a member of the Naples community and is neither endorsed nor affiliated with Naples Daily News