More than 170 cyclists from Canada and South Florida enjoyed the third annual Everglades Ride April 12 to support the River of Grass Greenway, which kicked off and ended in Everglades City, Fla., about a half hour from Naples. Cyclists had a choice of a 27-mile off-road course through the wondrous Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park or the road course along Highways 41 and 29.
The Everglades bike ride was conceived of as a ride for the whole family. On the road, cyclists could choose between a 16 miles and 62 miles. Both came with an opportunity to enjoy a visit to the historic Smallwood Store Museum located at the tip of Chokoloskee Island.
McLeod Park at the center of Everglades City (but with no signage) was the host site for sign-up, departure and finish. A delicious seafood lunch with fresh boiled shrimp, crab salad, hush puppies and more was provided for hungry finishers by Triad Seafood Market and Café. Camaraderie and “along-the-ride” stories were exchanged.
The long mileage riders departed at 8 a.m. and enjoyed a relatively traffic-free ride along Highway 29, and east 13.5 miles on Highway 41 toward Miami and back. Narrow road shoulders accommodated single file pacelines, and in some spots, narrow bridges made riding on the highway necessary. Bumpy demarcations between road and shoulder hampered a potentially stress-free ride but the scenery was tough to beat.
A refreshment stand provided by ride organizers Patty Huff and Maureen Bonness at Kirby Storter Park was the turnaround point on Highway 41.
Kirby-Storter at mile marker 62 on Hwy. 41 featured restrooms, a large parking area and a mile-long wooden boardwalk that meandered through cypress and other native trees, providing perches for stealthy hawks and a shady respite. The serene boardwalk ended at a swampy area with deep footprints in the mud, and one could imagine the trail’s terminus surrounded by brackish water during the wet season, and spying alligators lounging on its banks. But only geckos, spiders, butterflies and air plants were soaking up the scenery this particular day.
The Everglades ride was sponsored by the Naples Pathways Coalition, whose goal is safe pathways for bikers, walker and runners, and the River of Grass Greenway, www.evergladesROGG.org, which supports the concept of a bike path between Miami and Naples along Highway 41. The no-brainer connection for safe cycling between the southern coasts of Florida has encountered opposition from some who sees trails atop the berms already lining Highway 41 as “development” and encroachment on Florida’s Native Americans.
The River of Grass Greenway website says, “Parallel to the Tamiami Trail (US. 41), the ROGG will be a hard-surfaced 12-14 foot wide corridor (separated from the highway) suitable for a range of non-motorized recreation activities such as bicycling, walking, bird-watching, photography, fishing and general enjoyment of the greater Everglades natural area. The goal of the ROGG is to extend from Krome Avenue (eastern edge of Everglades National Park near Miami) to the outskirts of Naples/Marco Island (western terminus to be determined). In the middle, there will be a three mile spur to Everglades City.” Cyclists interested in next year’s Everglades Ride can join the ROGG’s email list.
The Everglades Ride provided ample opportunity to observe wildlife. There were plentiful alligators in roadside canals, dead possums and water moccasins on the highway, two white-tailed deer being photographed by a quiet tourist, and black vultures scavenging carnage along Highway 41.
Sheriff’s officers ensured cyclists’ safety, but one officer parked along a dirt road helped draw attention to carnage just outside his vehicle. My eyes were drawn to the scene of a dozen hulking vultures imaginably happy over their free breakfast du jour: dead alligator brains from a nine-foot alligator apparently struck by a vehicle earlier that morning.
I pedaled quickly onward, musing, “I could’ve done without witnessing that this morning,” but such is life — and death — in the Everglades. For wildlife and ride photos with accompanying descriptions, please enjoy my slide show.
For information about Everglades City, see the local newspaper www.evergladesmulletrapper.com or visit the Naples-Marco Island-Everglades City convention and visitors bureau site, www.paradisecoast.com. For more information on the Smallwood Store Museum, see my related zoomdune.com story (to come), and for places to stay in Everglades City, see my story on historic inns and River Wilderness Lodge (to come), also on zoomdune.com. For a boating and paddling adventure in this area, see my story: http://zoomdune.com/article/boating-and-kayaking-the-chokoloskee-sid…