Not related to the Skunk Ape, the Swamp Apes are men and women who volunteer primarily to clear hurricane debris from the old Homestead Canal (aka the Bear Lake Canoe Trail [BLCT]).The canal was dredged in the 1920s to establish road and canal links from Flamingo to Cape Sable. Investors had big plans for the area, but business did not take off so the road and canals fell into disrepair and were transitioned into canoe and hiking trails.Over the past 15 years, the BLCT became impossible to navigate as a series of hurricanes tore up the adjacent trees.
Jim Brack, a retiree from Cutler Ridge and longtime volunteer at the park, noticed the blocked trail during a hike in 2008 and asked whether he could try to clear it. The park agreed, and Brack rounded up a group of volunteers who call themselves the Swamp Apes. The original group included Tom Rahill, the current leader of the Swamp Apes. They meet once a month, not pausing during the summer heat.
"It's a really important trail to be cleared," explains Tony Terry, district Law Enforcement Ranger at Flamingo and supervisor of the Swamp Apes. "It allows people to get out into the back country without a two or three day trip."
Clearing vistas on the Anhinga Trail
Although they still have work to do, they already opened up the Bear Lake and Mud Lake Loop Canoe Trail in 2010. The BLCT is their primary focus, but the Swamp Apes volunteer to help trim trails and vistas in other areas of the park according to the park’s priority needs. For example, most recently they cleared vistas along the Anhinga Trail (AT).
Outward Bound working with Swamp Apes
The Swamp Apes plan to keep going, clearing the old Homestead Canal where it continues on the other side of Bear Lake to the Cape Sables, and they're seeking volunteers. If interested, please contact the Volunteer Office at 305-242-7752
(Article includes contributions from David Fleshler via South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com, June 2009)