jon-jarvis_web.jpgTonnette Collier said, “We want to teach them how important it is to save our parks. God blessed us to have so much, and to be able to see just how beautiful it is – man and nature, is wonderful.”

Collier, founder and president of the nonprofit Sweet Vine organization, could not have said it any better in describing the purpose behind the 10th Annual March for Parks event March 20 at Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County.
A partnership between the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association, the event brings together grass roots organizations with common goals to protect and preserve our national park system and expose all segments of our population to nature’s beauty.

That is more important now than ever.  Our nation’s population is shifting, with people of color becoming the majority.  Exposing new segments of our population to parks and generating interest in the outdoors is a vital link to ensuring that wild places remain just that.

“These are the places that remind us of who we are as Americans. They remind us all to be good citizens,” said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.

To that end, several busloads of children from all over South Florida, many of whom have never had a chance to visit the national parks in their back yard, took part in a day of hiking through Big Cypress National Preserve, spotting alligators lounging in the sun and experiencing the joy of Mother Nature up close and personal.

Nadine Patrice, a well known South Florida environmental activist and backbone of March for Parks, said, “This is about connecting all people to their national treasures.”

And Big Cypress National Preserve is just that.  According to the National Park Service, in 1974 Congress set aside 45 percent of the Big Cypress Swamp to protect the fragile and unique ecosystem from development and degradation.  The 729,000 acres are home to myriad animal and plant life, including alligators, venomous snakes, hardwood hammocks, and a few giant cypresses which survived the pillaging of trees during the lumber era of the 1930’s and 40’s.

Were it not for the conservation battles fought by early proponents of the preserve, like Nathaniel Reed, the Former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife, much of the area might have been destroyed.

“It will always be one of the greatest achievements of my life. The world’s resources are finite and need to be preserved. I thank God that I, and hundreds of others, had the clear belief that the integrity of the land must be protected.”

Now, those wishing to explore Big Cypress National Preserve can do so by foot and also through the resources at the new Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, which offers an historical overview of the region and what role it plays in our local ecosystem. It’s an easy drive west along Tamiami Trail, and well worth the journey!

For more information about Big Cypress National Preserve, go to

Julia Yarbough can be reached at

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Jon Jarvis