Everglades National Park reopened Shark Valley on Saturday, much to the delight of cyclists who have made the park a popular attraction for decades.
Shark Valley had been closed for three months since Hurricane Irma flooded the 15-mile loop road, which draws bicyclists, walkers and tram riders. The park also serves as home to alligators, otters, fish, turtles and birds. A wetter than normal season made water rise thigh-high in the parking lots, said Everglades National Park ranger Kimberly Oppen.
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“The high water levels we have experienced, we had not seen anything like that in quite some time,” she said. “We’re ready to go. We’re excited. Everyone was itching to get back.”
“Though this was upsetting for people not to be able to have access to Shark Valley, it was so good for the park itself. The wildlife was happy for that reprieve. I think the wildlife was excited to have that break,” Oppen said, laughing.
Despite the forced closure, Irma and the subsequent rains actually helped the Everglades, Oppen said.
“Water is its lifeblood, so having that influx of water may seem devastating for us but for the park itself it was a good thing,” she said. “This is part of what the Everglades restoration is aiming for.”
That said, staff figures mankind and beast will once again tolerate one another now that it’s business as usual.
“Some of the volunteers are back and raring to go. Everyone was excited to see each other,” Oppen said as locals and tourists from as far away as Australia hit the loop on bikes. Oppen even saw an otter on the trail, a rarity, she said.
You might not see sharks from the observation tower that gives visitors a 360-degree view of the Everglades, but the park is populated by alligators who sun themselves on the trail during chilly winter days. The tower’s viewing deck overlooks a water hole used by turtles, fish and birds. Shark Valley, in the heartland of the Everglades, is so named because its water flows southwest to Shark River.
Not everything is back to normal, though. Everglades National Park is still working to restore potable water to Shark Valley, so bring your own for the time being. Some portions of the loop road and trails are also still under water, like Otter Cave Trail and Bobcat Boardwalk. The latter was due for renovation and will reopen when the work is completed.
Some areas remain under a few inches of water — near the observation tower, for example — or are slick with algae from the wetness, so bicyclists and pedestrians are cautioned to take care.
If you go
What: Shark Valley tram tours, bike rentals
Where: 36000 SW Eighth Street, on the Tamiami Trail
When: The park is open 24 hours but bike rentals and tram tours are from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and vehicles don’t have access to the Shark Valley area after 6 p.m.
Information: 305-221-8455 or visit http://www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/