For our last day of work we headed out to the Hole-in-the-Donut, a former agricultural area where invasive plants like Brazilian pepper have overtaken the native habitat. Our worksite was a large artiﬁcially formed mound that would barely count as a hill in the north, but which towered over the ﬂat Everglades like a small mountain. Though many of the plants growing on the mound were native, they were being threatened by another aggressive invasive: Taro (yes, that’s the same taro that people make smoothies and bubble tea out of!).
When we got to the mound, a park scientist named Wayne showed us what taro looks like and how to remove it so that its roots wouldn’t sprout again. He also cautioned us that snakes liked to hang out on the mound, including the park’s four venomous snakes and the infamous invasive python. Though Wayne’s main job is to deal with the invasive plants of the park, he was also trained on how to catch the pythons he found and he had caught two of them recently on the mound: a sixteen-foot female and a smaller nine-foot snake that he’d found only two weeks before.
We set off to pull the taro and kept our eyes peeled for snakes. Most of us agreed that the taro work was the most satisfying we’d done so far at the park. It put us out in the wild Everglades instead of in the relative civilization of campgrounds, and looking back on the piles of taro allowed us to appreciate how much progress we’d made.
After a morning of taro pulling, we had a lunch break and were visited by the park superintendent of the Everglades, Dan Kimball. He told us about the history of the park and the Hole-in-the-Donut area and gave us some advice about getting work in the park system. He also told us how grateful he is for all of the volunteers who work in the park – volunteer work accounts for about a tenth of the work hours done in the Everglades!
After the break we headed up to the top of the mound on our way to the back side for more taro pulling. As we were enjoying the view, suddenly there was some commotion and Wayne stood up – holding the tail of a python! It was a relatively small python (only about six feet long) but we were still very excited. Wayne held the snake for us to look at for a while, and then put it in a special mesh snake bag and sent it off to some scientists at the nearby research center.
Finally, after making many more piles of pulled taro, we were ﬁnished with all of our work for the day (and for the week!) On the way back to camp we stopped at the Anhinga Trail, a boardwalk over some wetland areas where we saw dozens of alligators and water birds.
We planned to have a talent show after dinner but show ended up getting delayed because out on the bay, a group of three or four huge manatees swam by, rolling around in the waves and splashing their ﬂippers. We watched them as the sun set until they swam away.
Though it was getting dark out, the talent show was a great success. We had gymnastics acts, juggling, a ukulele song, some crazy Tasmanian-toe-tapping, a wonderful poem about our trip, and a story narrated by our leaders Celia and Stephanie and accompanied by interpretive dance.
Tomorrow is our recreational day, but none of us know what we’ll be doing yet! We’ve been warned to wear long pants and clothes we won’t mind getting dirty…