Beneath the dark surface of thigh-deep swamp water in the Everglades grow the roots of cypress trees. They're all but invisible to hikers until someone rams a tender shin into one. Snakes and alligators inhabit the murky water, too. But, according to Sandy Snell-Dobert, "with the water as high as it is right now, the alligators are pretty spread out." Chief of interpretation (nature, not language) at Big Cypress National Preserve on the western edge of Everglades National Park, Snell-Dolbert is also confident that snakes will slither off when she and other guides lead groups through wet prairie land and into stands of cypress trees September 4 through 6.
Hikers taking the hour-long walks will be more concerned with plants and trees than animals, anyway, because they will have just seen a slide show on Everglades flora. The hike and show are parts of an open-house program at the gallery of renowned Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher, located a mile east of the preserve, about halfway between Miami and Naples on U.S. Highway 41. The general public is welcome, but members of the Outdoor Adventures Klub (OAK) of Fort Lauderdale, founded in mid-July, will attend the September 4 event as a group.
If you've never seen the Everglades without a car window framing the view, the slog through the slough is indeed adventurous. For OAK outing leader Debbie Richards of Coconut Creek, though, the day trip is fairly tame. "We had a rustic cabin up in the wilderness of Canada, and we would go there for our vacations" as kids, says Richards, age 41. "There was no running water or electricity, and there were bears."
Although she's more than capable of camping out on her own, Richards prefers to share outdoors experiences with others. "It's more fun as a group," she says, "and we do get to do things that you wouldn't ordinarily get to do" as an individual.
During the Everglades trip, for example, OAK members will car-pool and enjoy a picnic lunch after the hike. On September 12 outing leader Jordan London will conduct a canoe clinic at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach that includes a tailgate breakfast and a picnic lunch. An overnight "zoo-in" at Miami Metrozoo in October will allow campers to embark on a zookeeper-led, behind-the-scenes tour.
More-challenging excursions, such as overnight backpacking, will be added as OAK's membership grows. "Our trips are rated," explains Richards. "We wouldn't want to put anybody into a situation that would be too difficult for them."
Although Richards, London, and the other OAK leaders are experienced outdoorspeople, even old hands are willing to try new experiences. "Once people join," Richards says, "if they have ideas for things they would like to do, we're open to that."