Life on the Tamiami
Why 40 + 8 = 50 when naming Fifty Mile Bend

About 8 miles west of Forty Mile Bend …

Is another curve in the road.

Tamiami Canal reverse flows at Fifty Mile Bend

Technically, doing the math, it should be called 48 Mile Bend.

But we round up in the Big Cypress Swamp.

Thus it is known as Fifty Mile Bend. Turns out it’s also a hydrologic divide, sending water at that point both west and east, and yes I’ve seen it with my own eyes (as documented in the video above). What a kind-hearted canal to feed water in equal doses to the Everglades and Big Cypress.

Next step: Convince the regional water managers to do the same.

Crossing the dotted lines
How invisible lines shape our thinking

Dotted lines warp our view …

Of how a watershed naturally works

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I‘m not saying let’s do away with the lines.

All I’m saying is let’s try to find some common ground.

As seen in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

This National Park Service placard at the trailhead to Big Cypress Bend boardwalk has always intrigued me.

It’s a state trail, part of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park which was established in the mid 1970s. So the placard predates the dotted lines that eventually went in, but to me – both then and today – it’s a reminder that our modern-day boundaries are not set in stone, nor should our thinking simply stop wherever they start and end.

A couple miles in on the old logging tram road

That’s probably why if felt so good to meet up with Fakahatchee’s long-time biologist at a culvert site on Jane’s Scenic Drive. With great enthusiasm Mike said, “Bob, we need to work more together.”

Enthusiasm across dotted lines is not only contagious

It’s our best path forward to getting the water right.

Before lines
The water didn't change, the boundary did

Today, we often default to political lines …

When thinking about geography, and hydrology, too.

Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features, 2019, by Lexie Hoffart & Nichole Miller, Geographers, SFMWD. View a full scale version of the map here. Find out more about how the map was made here.

But we all know water has a mind of its own.

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Glades-fed swamp
Photo tour of the 19-mile long L-28 levee

Here’s a quick tour of the L-28 …

Back from August of 2017.

(1) S-12A looking southeast
Mile 0
(2) S-343B looking southwest
(That’s the Tamiami Trail to the left)
Mile 1
(3) S-343A looking West
Mile 2
(4) First of four temporary
pumps, looking North
Mile 4
(5) Second of four temporary 
pumps, looking North
Mile 4
(6-8) Third and fourth of four temporary pumps
and the S-344, looking North
Mile 12
(6-8) Same spot as above
looking Southwest
Mile 12
(9) First of three breaks in the tieback
looking Northwest (the water in the gaps
flows from right left)
Mile 17
(10) Middle of three breaks 
in tieback, looking Northwest
Mile 17
(11) Third of three breaks 
in tieback, looking Northwest
Mile 18
(12) Northern terminus of L-28
Tieback, looking Northwest
Mile 19

By my count there were twelve locations that water from the righthand side of the levee (i.e. WCA3A East) was flowing across into the Big Cypress side (i.e. left) of the L-28 divide.

The bigger question is this:

Is the L-28 the true physiographic boundary between the Big Cypress and Everglades?

After careful review, my opinion is the answer is no.

Interstate levee
Without tolls and barely any traffic

How big is the swamp?

Consider it’s almost the size of a state.

Comparison map of Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve and Rhode Island

Okay, granted: I picked the smallest state. But still.

Rhode Island is 1,214 square miles compared to the 1,139 square miles of Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve alone. If we add in Fakahatchee and the rest of cypress tree country, the swamp definitely wins.

As for the levees, the L28 South (plus tieback) is 19 miles long. The L28 Interceptor is 18 miles long. The West Feeder another 5. That add up to 42 miles of levee, and about the same length of I-95 in Rhode Island.

The key difference is the traffic congestion and speed.

I-95 is a major high-speed thoroughfare …

While interstate-sized levees are barely traveled at all.

Shorter commute?
Swamp stays put, but town gets closer

National parks have a reputation …

For being stuck in time in a good way.

Population growth in south Florida since Everglades Nat’l Park and Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve were established. Compared to Miami, it looks like Collier County has barely grown at all.

Years, even decades, later you can return to a park …

And it mostly looks the same. Same old trees. Same old swamp.

But on the other side of the dotted line …

The landscape has and is rapidly changing.

Population growth in Collier County over time. By 2040 population growth in East Collier alone (shown in red) is predicted to the 2010 countywide level.

The same return trip to a spot you remembered as a grove of trees or farm fields in your youth often times has changed to houses, concrete and a maze of roads.

Slowly and steadily, that has made the parks less and less remote.

Driving to town just isn’t as far away as it used to be.