Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Opens to the Public
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Naples, Florida: U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton were here today to open a new trail system at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. For the first time, the public will be able to visit the refuge and see wildlife like bear, deer and turkey that have already left tracks on the new trails.
The trail system is located near the juncture of Interstate 75 and State Road 29. It provides access to the refuge’s southeast corner, introducing hikers to the major south Florida habitat types such as pine flatwoods, prairies, hardwood hammocks and cypress swamps. The trail system consists of two concentric loop trails including a one-third-mile trail that may be closed seasonally because of flooding and a 0.3-mile trail that is wheelchair accessible. There is no charge for use of these trails.
“The partnership to create the trails in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when the federal government and the private sector work together to make federal lands more accessible to the public,” said U.S Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, whose district includes the refuge. “This refuge is a part of the Everglades Trail program and allows the public to explore the unique ecosystem in the Big Cypress.”
“Without our many community partnerships, the refuge would not have been able to open these trails,” said Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton. “In fact, Richard Traverse, a refuge volunteer and engineer, completed the design, planning, and permitting for the parking lot and trails for free. I want to thank our partners and Rep. Diaz-Balart.”
The opening of Florida Panther Refuge is the direct result of private and government partnerships including the Federal Highways Administration, the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, and private contributions and volunteers.
Although possible, it is highly unlikely that anyone will see a Florida panther on these trails. Panthers are secretive animals, typically shy away from people, and are most active at night when the trails are closed.
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge trails are part of the newly established Everglades Trail System, a project sponsored by former Senator Bob Graham, to highlight the beauty and diversity of the Florida Everglades. Educational kiosks will display aspects of the Florida Everglades, highlight the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and its namesake endangered cat.
The 26,400-acre Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge was established in June 1989. It is located within the heart of southwest Florida’s Big Cypress Basin. The refuge encompasses the northern origin of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest cypress strand in the Big Cypress Swamp. A total of 126 bird species, including wood storks and swallow-tailed kites are found on the refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fish and wildlife management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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