The speaker of the night was Lisa Andrews who worked for the National Park service for the last 25 years. She is the outreach and education coordinator of Big Cypress National Preserve for 20 of those 25 years. During her time at Big Cypress she has developed and manages the preserves curriculum-based environmental education program called SWAMP for all sixth grade Science students of the Collier County public schools, reaching nearly 3,000 sixth graders each year. She also manages the interpretive outreach program supervising staff providing special events for special interest groups of all ages.
“Big Cypress is the closest National Preserve to LaBelle,” Lisa explains. “My mom used to drag me out there when I was a kid to look for orchids and birds in the swamp, and it stuck with me. Now I am the one dragging people through the swamp and making them look at the birds. Big Cypress is called a Preserve because of the different uses that are allowed. The preserve was established in 1974 and there was already a lot going on in that area at the time, things like hunting. If you legally owned your piece of land at the time of establishment of the preserve, you were allowed to stay. Right now, there are still over 160 camps in Big Cypress. The preserve is the heart of the Florida panther’s primary range. Each individual of this endangered species is a critical member of the population,” Andrews says.
The Preserve is open all year and both visitor centers are open daily, December through April, rangers lead programs that give you insights into the Preserve’s many stories. The Preserve offers guided swamp walks, canoe tours, talks and amphitheater programs. Whether in summer’s wet season or winter’s dry season, you can explore the entire preserve. Some places that you explore waist-deep in the wet season might be bone dry in the dry season!