Siegel was a font of information throughout the day. "This park won't grab you unless you have a day like we had today," she says. "That's why you need to go out with an interpreter."

Volunteers play vital roles throughout the national park system, and Siegel's knowledge base makes her a valuable part of the Everglades. "Ellen is particularly unique because she's been around long enough and knows virtually all aspects of interpretation that we can seamlessly put her anywhere into our operations," says Cherry Payne, the chief of interpreters at Everglades National Park.

The Everglades depends on water dumped on Florida during its wet season, from May through October. Water trickles south from shallow Lake Okeechobee when it overflows its banks, creating a 50-mile wide sheet of water that flows into the Everglades before emptying into the estuaries along both coasts and the Florida Keys. No more than a couple of feet deep, this river moseys through the sawgrass at the rate of about a mile a day.

But a 1,400-mile maze of canals and levees designed for flood control and water management hinders the natural water flow into the Everglades and negatively impacts various plants and wildlife, while reducing the ecosystem's ability to filter pollution. Everglades National Park was created in 1947 more for biodiversity protection than for its looks, and environmental pressures remain due to South Florida's burgeoning population growth.

"The Everglades is globally important," says Siegel, noting that it's a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. "For Florida its important for fresh water issues, but the locals don't necessarily get it. That's why I spend so much free time bringing groups out here."

First « 1 2 3 » Next