Corkscrew After Hours: In Search of Ancient Giants

The cloak of night makes many things seem frightening, especially an ancient swampy expanse, where the croaks and groans from the shadowed trees seem take on an exaggerated closeness. The 13,000-acres expanse of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is no place to be come night, unless of course it’s along the two-mile boardwalk for the monthly Corkscrew After Hours program.

Corkscrew After Dark - Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk at Night.

Photo by R.J. Wiley

   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 the shrinking Florida wilderness. There is an intimacy in the ancient bald cypress forest as it is folded in darkness; as the twitter of songbirds transitions to owl hoots and a symphony of croaks erupts from the swamp as toads and frogs make their call, the vastness of the sanctuary presses as your other senses compensate for diminished sight.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - After Hours program - National Audubon Society - photo by Waddy Thompson
Photo by Waddy Thompson

   For December’s installment, scheduled for Friday, December 12, a special presentation by Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s Resource Manager, C. Michael Knight, Ph.D., will take visitors deeper in the forest than ever before—all from the safety of the Blair Audubon Center lecture hall.

   The evening’s programming begins at 5:30 p.m. with a classroom presentation, “Exploration of Corkscrew’s Ancient Forest,” led by Knight, including a complete summary of the recent research expedition he led in Corkscrew Swamp.

    In April 2013, Knight, a research conservation biologist, and team embarked on an expedition to survey Corkscrew Swamp’s old-growth forest, the world’s largest remaining old-growth bald cypress strand. “In response to early historical accounts of giant cypress trees measuring over 20 feet in circumference and dating at least 500 years old, I wanted to know how many of these ancient giants still grew in Corkscrew Swamp and where they were located,” said Knight via email.

   The first phase of the study had the team surveying the entirety of the old-growth forest, approximately 700 acres, locating 60 giant trees, the largest of which measured 24 feet in circumference. This entailed an exhaustive search that went deep into some of the remotest areas of the swamp, sometimes trudging waste deep in the water. Following this, phase two of the expedition trained its eye on a single tree. To better understand the ecological significance of these magnificent trees, the team took a full inventory of all plant and animal life calling one of these leviathan trees home.

Expedition leader Dr. Mike Knight, FN’07 with Flag #174 - The Explorer's Club - Ancient Giants of the Swamp Expedition

Expedition leader Dr. Mike Knight, FN’07 with Flag #174

Photo courtesy of The Explorer’s Club

   “This study was conducted from ground level all the way up into the tree canopy (using specialized climbing gear). We only scratched the surface identifying the biodiversity supported by a single bald cypress tree, but we also made some very interesting discoveries,” said Knight, who is currently compiling his findings in scientific publications and an official expedition report to be submitted to the Explorer’s Club archives. As an elected Fellow of the Explorer’s Club (and Southwest Florida Regional Director of the Florida Chapter), Knight carried Flag #174 – last carried on expedition 50 years ago on a trans-Antarctica expedition – on what is now officially known as the “Ancient Giants of the Swamp Expedition.”

   Knight will share his findings and some stories from the “Ancient Giants of the Swamp Expedition,” which came to a close in August 2014, kick starting December’s After Hours programing.

  • Admission is free with normal park fee ($12 per adult, $6 per child).
  • Sandwiches, snacks and drinks will be available at the Tea Room.
  • For more information, call 239-348-9151 or visit

Additional programing includes:

  • From 5:30-7:30 p.m., folksinger/guitarist Ken Skeens will perform at the Blair Audubon Center. With a tinge of Appalachian heritage, the Will McLean Florida Folk Heritage Award-winning songwriter’s acoustic melodies tap into subjects ranging from the environment and preservation to spirituality and Americana.
  • Concurrently, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., an Interpretive Discovery station on cypress trees will setup shop on the deck behind the Blair Center.
  • 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.
  • With the sun setting at 5:37 p.m., budding astronomers and stargazers will have a chance to peer into the night’s sky with The Everglades Astronomical Society from 7-9 p.m.

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