Archive for August, 2012

Take Part in Paddle Florida’s Suwannee River Trip on Oct. 26-31

Folks, get your kayaking gear squared away and get ready to paddle the Suwannee River! That's right, Paddle Florida's annual fall trip on the Suwannee is coming up soon, and you don't want to be the one waving goodbye to the group at the launch. This is the fifth year for Paddle Florida on the Suwannee River, and things just keep getting better and better.

This year the trip starts at Madison Blue Spring State Park, and over the course of six days you'll make your way to Ivey Memorial Park in Branford. That's 65 miles on the river, which averages out to a little less than eleven miles per day. Nothing to it! If you haven't been on a Paddle Florida trip before, I'd definitely recommend the Suwannee trip as a good one to start off with. Don't be surprised if you end up registering for other Paddle Florida trips afterwards, though.

The registration fee for this event is $275, and if you want the Paddle Florida crew to feed you (believe me, you want this), it's an extra $150. Trust me when I say that you won't be eating ramen noodles on the side of the river. We are talking about a full-on breakfast, a light lunch and snack stops, and an awesome dinner – which is heavenly after a day on the water.

To get an idea of what a day is like on a Paddle Florida trip, take a peek at the video that I've added to this post. For more information, check out Have a great six days on the Suwannee!

Continue reading Take Part in Paddle Florida’s Suwannee River Trip on Oct. 26-31 »

Ready for the Weekend: August 11-12 Events

Who's ready for the weekend? I know, I know – you've been stuck inside an office all week, with no time to plan out what you are going to do with your free time. I know how it goes, so I've decided to start giving you the scoop on what's coming up right around the corner. So, if you are looking for some last-minute things to do, here are a few events that will get you outside:

There are lots of cool things going on this weekend in Florida State Parks. If you are looking to learn more about sea turtles, Fort George Island Cultural State Park in Jacksonville is putting on a program on August 11. It's a free event, and starts at 2 p.m. 

Lace up your running shoes and head over down to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park for the annual Kickoff 5K, hosted by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Road Runners Club. The park entrance fee is included in the race registration fee. The race takes place on August 11, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Check out for more information. 

On Sunday, August 12, take the little ones over to Anastasia State Park for a kids birding workshop. It's for children ages 8-12 and lasts about an hour and a half. A chaperone is required for the event, which starts at 9 a.m. Advance registration is needed. Call Cristy Leonard at 904-461-2035 or send email to

Know of some cool outdoorsy events? Share them with me over on the VISIT FLORIDA Outdoors and Nature Facebook Page and I'll help spread the word. 




Continue reading Ready for the Weekend: August 11-12 Events »

Photo: Jungle Erv’s Boardwalk, Everglades City

Jungle Erv’s boardwalk through the mangroves is an added plus that comes with your airboat tour. You’ll also see an alligator presentaion by his son Christopher.

Continue reading Photo: Jungle Erv’s Boardwalk, Everglades City »

Everglades Legacy of Airboats and Alligators at Jungle Erv's

Erv Stokes' grandfather came to the Everglades during World War II to serve as pastor of the Chokoloskee Church of God. His daddy Odalph stayed in the Everglades and made his living hunting, trapping, skinning and, occasionally, wrestling alligators.

Erv, born and raised in the Everglades, used to dive for the gators his daddy shot. He didn't care much for the work, so he became a school teacher, but in 1984, he opened Eden of the Everglades, and started offering airboat rides through eight acres of swampland he owned along Panther Creek near Everglades City.

He built a boardwalk so visitors could take a comfortable stroll through the swamp. He opened a gator pit, too, where "Odie," his father, would wrestle the reptiles. Eventually the younger Stokes changed the name of the business to Jungle Erv's Airboat Rides.
"Some guys said, 'You should just call it Jungle Erv's,' and I liked the sound of that," Erv said, "so I did."

But trouble came to paradise. The business was pretty much blown away by Hurricane Andrew, which passed right over Everglades City in 1992, and battered again in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma.

Now Jungle Erv is rejuvenating his business. He has rebuilt his boardwalk, which wends its way through six miles of the Everglades. He has ordered "swamp buggies" – vehicles with enormous tires that can drive over the boggy terrain of the Everglades – so he can provide tours. And he plans to expand the gator show too, which will always remind him of Odie, who died in 2010 at the age of 81.

Odie began wrestling gators in his son's gator pit in 1989 and kept right on going as he lost his sight to macular degeneration. He claimed he could see murky shapes, which was enough for him to subdue his opponents. "Once I get ahold of that sucker, he's mine," he told a reporter in 1999.

Odie had been effectively blind for two years before he finally decided, at the age of 70, to give up gator wrestling. By then the National Enquirer had written about the blind gator wrestler, and ABC's Good Morning America had covered the phenomenon, too.

The gators had been good to Odie. Although he considered himself a fisherman, he would turn to gators when the mullet weren't running. He would hunt, trap and skin the creatures, and then sell the hides for around $5 a foot, which provided quite a windfall when he landed a 7- or 8-foot gator. Odie even spent some time in prison in 1969 for selling the hides across state lines.

"We're not ashamed to admit it," Erv said, casting a glance at his mother, Laverne, sitting nearby in the new gift shop at Jungle Erv's. She married Odie when she was 15 and spent years helping him fish, but she didn't complain about the gator poaching, which fed the family.

Laverne's mother, according to family legend, was "sweet on" Edgar Watson, the tall, handsome, red-haired, blue-eyed serial killer who was gunned down by his neighbors at his 35-acre plantation at Chatham Bend, about 20 miles southeast of Chokoloskee Island on Oct. 24, 1910. Watson reportedly hired itinerants to work on the plantation, and then murdered them. He had been implicated in numerous other murders too. (You can read all about him in Shadow Country, Peter Mathiessen's novelization of Ed Watson's life.)

Odie probably never would have been caught and prosecuted for gator poaching – a commonplace crime at the time – if two events hadn't conspired against him. First, alligators were placed on the endangered species list, which caused law enforcement officers to pay more attention to poachers. Second, Odie's name turned up on a list kept by a man in Atlanta who sold gator skins.

So when his son opened Jungle Erv's, Odie figured he might as well make some money wrestling gators since he had been doing it for most of his life anyway.

Meanwhile, the airboat business took off.

The airboats that Erv operates are ungainly machines that consist of light aluminum skiffs powered by muscular automobile engines mounted on the back, above the water line. The engine spins a large propeller at high speed. The pilot sits on a tall stool in front of the caged engine and propeller, steering the boat with a pair of rudders mounted behind the engine to catch the high winds blowing backwards.

The revved engine gives off a deafening roar (riders are offered sound-muffling ear protectors), and the boat skims at high speed like a car on a vast, rain-soaked tarmac. When the pilot turns left, the boat skids sideways without losing any speed.

Then, for thrills, the pilot may suddenly shoot down a narrow alley lined with mangrove trees, or slide over some exposed ground and back into the water on the other side.

But the pilot also stops from time to time to talk about the gators, the wild pigs and other wildlife that frequent the area. Some of the animals – presumably either deaf or indifferent to the roar of the airboat engine – even make an appearance, which always delights the riders.

Bryan Sanders, who was in the first-grade class Erv used to teach, delivers mini-lectures on the flora and fauna. He might display the leaves of a mangrove tree and explain how they dispose of the salt from the sea water soaked up by the tree's roots, or point upward to show how the wings of vultures form a "v" when they fly, while hawks and other raptors maintain their wings in a straight line.

"All of my guides are native to the area," said Erv. "Most have worked here for years. They know what they're talking about."

Everglades Airboat Rides

Jungle Erv's Airboat Tours
804 Collier Ave, Everglades City
Boats Tours Depart Daily
Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Reservations suggested but not required
1- 877-695-2820

The Original Coopertown Airboat
22700 Southwest 8th Street, Miami

Corey Billie's Airboat Rides
20610 Tamiami Trail East, Naples

Captain Doug's Everglades Tours
One Mile Past the Bridge on SR 29, Everglades City

Everglades Island Air Boat Tours
Turn right on Dupont Street (off SR 29), just before the Everglades City Bridge
1-866-Manatee (626-2833) or 239-695-2333

Everglades Private Airboat Tours
23 miles east of Naples on Highway 41, one mile before State Road 29

Speedy's Airboat Tours
621 Begonia Street, Everglades City
239-695-4448 or 1-800-998-4448

Wooten's Everglades Airboat Tour
32330 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee
239-695-2781 or 800-282-2781

Continue reading Everglades Legacy of Airboats and Alligators at Jungle Erv's »

Photo: Jungle Erv’s Airboat Rides, Everglades City

Mother and daughter enjoy an airboat tour at Jungle Erv’s in Everglades City.

Continue reading Photo: Jungle Erv’s Airboat Rides, Everglades City »

Photo: Jungle Erv’s Airboat Rides, Everglades City

You’re bound to see plenty of wildlife on your airboat tour at Jungle Erv’s in Everglades City, especially alligators.

Continue reading Photo: Jungle Erv’s Airboat Rides, Everglades City »

The Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run is Oct.19-21

I'm not sure if pirates wore running shoes, but what the heck – this sounds fun! On Oct. 19-21, drive your car (or sail your pirate ship, if you happen to have one) over to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach for the Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run. And yes, this is one weekend where it's okay to dress up like Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Three days, you say? Let me break it down for you – Friday night is the masquarade ball, Saturday is the day of the 1K fun run for kids, and Sunday is the main 5K Adventure Run. Here's an idea, reserve a campsite at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and stay for the whole thing.

For more information, visit Have fun!

Continue reading The Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run is Oct.19-21 »

Don’t Miss the Big Cypress Gallery Open House and Swamp Walks on Sept. 1-3

The time to take a walk in the swamp is almost here! For me, the Open House and Swamp Walk event at Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery is one of the coolest events of the year. It's a great experience for the whole family, where everyone will come away with a better understanding of the Everglades ecosystem. Oh, and you'll also come away with wet clothes, so make sure 

Besides coming away with a better understanding of the Everglades, you'll also come away with wet clothes. Make sure to wear things that you don't mind getting rid of afterwards. You know those old shoes you use when you mow the lawn? Wear those, because swamp walks are famous for removing the soles of footwear. Leave the nice Nikes and fancy pants at home – unless you are super rich and that's just how you roll when playing in the swamp.

Besides all the swampy fun, there's also a chance to meet famed Florida photographer Clyde Butcher in the Big Cypress Gallery. He will be on hand to meet and greet guests, and will show off some of his newest images.

The guided swamp walks take about an hour and a half, and leave every hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the event. The cost is $50 per person, and kids walk for free with adults. You also get a $25 gift certificate to use in the gallery when you purchase a swamp walk. Hurry up and register early – the trips fill up fast, and space is limited.

For more information, visit Have fun in the swamp!

Continue reading Don’t Miss the Big Cypress Gallery Open House and Swamp Walks on Sept. 1-3 »