Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will be revealing the mysteries of the nighttime swamp with its ever-popular Corkscrew After Hours, beginning on Friday, October 16. The seasonal series keeps the gates to the ancient bald cypress forest open late one night a month through March, from 5:30-9 p.m., giving visitors a chance to experience the western fringe of the Everglades under the cloak of darkness.
What seems rather benign during the day—a knothole in a moss-covered cypress, a shadowy recess under the sanctuary’s raised boardwalk—teems with life come night. As the twitter of songbirds transitions to the hoots of owls, and a symphony of croaks erupts from the murky swamp as toads and frogs begin their ceaseless call, the vastness of the sanctuary’s 13,000 acres presses in as your other senses compensate for the lower light.
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk at Night.
Photo by R.J. Wiley
The swamp can seem magical at night, especially to city slickers who do not normally find themselves in the wilderness after dusk. This is why Corkscrew hosts these monthly after dark field trips. Designed to welcome the eco-curious to enjoy the sanctuary once night falls, After Hours gives guests an opportunity to experience the contrast of the daytime environment, while merging an educational component intended to enlighten about the sanctuary and Florida’s shrinking wilderness. Each After Hours evening is set to a specific theme designed to examine a unique aspect of the swamp and the wildlife that calls it home with a series of interpretive exhibits and educational programs, including lectures, guided walks along the sanctuary’s boardwalk, and stargazing with the Everglades Astronomical Society—weather permitting. .
For the first After Hours’ evening of the 2015-2016 season, Corkscrew will be training its eye on the “Critters of the Night: Up Close and Personal for Kids of All Ages” from 5:30-9 p.m. on October 16. The fun family event will hold a number of kids-only activities at the Blair Audubon Visitor Center, including face painting; a 3D puzzle station; arts and crafts; animal encounters with alligators, snakes, and even a tarantula; and some fun with science, creating slime and dry ice bubbles, to name but a few. For an educational component disguised as a field operation, Allyson Webb, Corkscrew’s resource manager for Panther Island, will teach kids “How to be a Bat Scientist.” Designed to simulate mist netting, a technique used to capture bats in the Everglades and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (of which there are five species), kids will don the researcher hat and extract stuffed bats from the mist nets, taking measurements like forearm length, and make note of scientific data, like species, giving the junior researchers some field operative experience in the comfort—and safety—of the indoors.
For those looking to get some actual in-the-field nighttime exploration, the two-mile boardwalk will be open to self-guided tours from 5:30-9 p.m. Interpretive discovery stations will be open from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on the deck behind the Blair Center, examining the nocturnal creatures that live in the sanctuary. From 6-7 p.m., Corkscrew naturalist will lead guided walks along the boardwalk; times vary, and visitors must sign-up at the admission desk that night. From 6-8 p.m., enjoy live music at the Blair Audubon Visitor Center with fiddler Laura Leary and guitarist Cindy Hackney. Food and refreshments will be available at the Tea Room Cafe.
Being so far removed from the beaten path, stargazing at Corkscrew is pretty great. Weather permitting, the Everglades Astronomical Society will join the After Hours programming, setting up telescopes at the Horseshoe Marsh observation post. On a clear night, the skies truly open up, and with the guidance of the astronomical society, you can explore wonders.
- Admission costs $14, which is good for two consecutive days to the sanctuary. Kids under 18 are free. For more information, visit corkscrew.audubon.org.
Photo by Waddy Thompson
Part of the Western Everglades and Corkscrew Watershed, all of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s 13,000 acres are a vital link to Florida’s aboriginal landscape. Protected by the National Audubon Society since 1953, conservation efforts helped end and reverse the devastating effects plume hunters and loggers had on the landscape and its inhabitants for decades. A place once deemed indomitable, the great Everglades, too wild for modern civilization, is now being parceled and paved, not just tamed but subdued. While the wildlife whose ancestral roots dig much deeper than the first tentative footsteps of western intrusion, is becoming afterthought, more museum diorama than living example of nature. Organizations like Audubon help preserve these last natural respites like Corkscrew, examples of conservation in action and places of learning for future generations to not only connect with the past of their place but also learn how to coexist. Programming like After Hours helps create a greater understanding of this land while not being an overtly educational oration—this is more experience than lecture, and for children, more field trip than day in class.