Decades Of Restoration Work – The Everglades Bridge That Changed it All

In 1915, a very convenient road was built from Tampa to Miami. It made travel from the two places easier, but it made life incredibly difficult for some of the other local inhabitants. The road behaved like a dam, cutting off water to the southern part of the Everglades and causing damage to an ecosystem that we know to be incredibly delicate.

Culverts and ditches were eventually constructed to address the problem of a choking ecosystem, but there wasn’t much improvement until 2013 when the Tamiami Trail Bridge was constructed.

Why Restoration? Does The Everglades National Park Need Help?

Everglades National Park wasn’t established until 1947, and by then, the damage to the Everglades was already noticeable. The Tamiami Tail, connecting Tampa to Miami (hence the name), was constructed around the same time that water from Lake Okeechobee was being redirected away from the Everglades and towards each of the east and west coasts, meaning the Everglades were hit hard and fast.

There has been a significant loss of habitats due to the time of reduced freshwater. A few of the effects we can name are a decline in tree islands, massive amounts of seagrass dying off, algae blooms in Florida Bay, large fires, declines in small fish that have lasted for decades, loss of supercolonies of wading birds, invasions of invasive and exotic species of animals and plants, and declining numbers of alligators—the creature that is most often associated with the Everglades.

It is crucial that we do everything in our power to protect what we have left of the Everglades. The ecosystem endured much neglect before being properly protected, which means we have to be even more careful today. Also, invasive species like the Reticulated pythons are another major issue for the Everglades ecosystem. 

Thankfully, we are seeing encouraging improvement across the Everglades such as unimpeded water flow and extended periods of marsh hydration. Read more about what we can do to protect the Florida Everglades

The Tamiami Trail and its Impact on Florida’s Overall Economy

Prior to the construction of the Tamiami Trail, locals mostly traversed South Florida by boat. It was time-consuming and expensive. In short, another option was desperately needed. After many years of putting off the need, government officials began to allocate funds for a highway.

Cutting through the Everglades wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. The stretch across the Everglades was incredibly hard to traverse, sinking in limestone, and sweltering weather. The project had to stop multiple times. It wasn’t until 1923 that the project began to gather steam and that was because Barron Collier provided funding. This was in exchange for a new county carrying his name. Thus, Collier County in Southwest Florida was born.

There were many internal arguments about going a coastal route or slicing through the inland routes, and these arguments sprouted into rifts. If things had developed differently, the way Florida functions would likely be quite different than it is today.

Though the process of creating the Tamiami Trail was slow and ran out of funds many times, and endured a lot of infighting, it was eventually “finished” for the first time on April 26th, 1928. The north side of Florida became connected to the south side, and the miles west across the Everglades from Miami to Tampa were accessible to all.

Tourism and travel boomed, but due to a lack of understanding and consideration from the builders, the Everglades quickly began to suffer.

If you’re feeling concerned about the well-being of the Everglades, know that there’s hope. Despite the damage that’s already been done, and thanks to conservation efforts by many incredible people and organizations, all is not lost.

The One Mile Bridge Built in 2013

The one-mile Tamiami Trail bridge was completed in March 2013. It is part of the project “Modified Water Delivers to Everglades National Park.” The goal of this project (also known as Mod Waters) is to re-establish the historic sloughs and sheet flow from the Water Conservation Areas into Florida Bay and Everglades National Park.

This project took quite a while because costs and debates about the best course of action resulted in many delays. The fact that the nation overcame all these challenges and constructed the one-mile bridge is one of their great achievements in ecosystem restoration.

More than 90% of nesting efforts for the Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Wood Stork, and Tricolored Heron (all key indicator species) took place in the southern Everglades mangrove estuary and marshes from the 1930s to the early ’40s.

In 2012, there were reports of the third consecutive year of poor wading bird nesting across the Everglades, but there is no evidence of beneficial changes taking place since the completion of the one-mile bridge.

Tamiami Trail Bridges Already Showing That Everglades Restoration Works

Scientists specifically studying roseate spoonbill nesting in Florida Bay have witnessed the species react positively to the beneficial changes that have been made in water management practices. This demonstrates that when the natural patterns of water in the Everglades are restored, the wildlife will respond, and, ideally, everything will function as it once did.

Even more positive changes should become realized in the near future as the full 6.5 miles of roadway are lifted and the parched Everglades are rehydrated. The more those natural patterns are restored, the more the Everglades are free to be their beautiful, historic selves.

The River of Grass is coming back to life as the natural water flow is restored. The Everglades ecosystem needs fresh water flowing freely in order to survive, and we can see by the historic sloughs that we’re headed in the right direction.

In 2020, we saw sustained water in the Northeast Shark River Slough, which is usually dry by March. This prolonged hydration contributes to a healthy environment, especially when the dry season hits.

The improvement of this portion of the Everglades is only the beginning. Learn more Everglades fun facts

The National Park Service Expects The Project To Be Completed In 2024

The conservation vision didn’t really begin until the early 2000s when money was allocated to elevate a small section within Everglades National Park, remove road fill, and initiate maintenance to the causeways that were already in place.

The building project itself was tricky to accomplish, encountering funding issues that required private investors (One particular instance of private funding ended in a separate county being created: Collier County), so adjusting all of these bridges to allow water and wildlife to pass underneath has been a slow process.

Adjustments have been made to make sure water is being distributed evenly. It has been a section-by-section process where portions of the roadway were slated for bridging. In 2020, the final phase was funded and the goal is to see it completed by 2024.

The L-67 canal is actually built on the roadbed of the original Tamiami Trail, which runs parallel to the current highway. Before 2013, that canal provided most of the unnatural water into Shark River Slough.

Now, there is the new one-mile Tamiami Trail bridge that’s elevated and sometimes called the “Everglades Skyway.” It is the first attempt directed towards correcting the severe imbalance that the original highway caused. 

However, the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of the Everglades is to visit it yourself. Book one of our Everglades airboat tours in Fort Lauderdale, grab a chance to meet the infamous gator boys along with an alligator show (maybe even hold a baby alligator!). Remember, Everglades is only a 42-mile trip away from Miami!

You can find more information about the Everglades national park at any of the several visitor centers. (Gulf Coast Visitor Center and Shark Valley Visitor Center, to name two.)


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