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A Cathedral of Wetlands: Immerse Yourself in Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Mar 09, 2022 10:32AM ● By RENEE WILSON

Close your eyes and imagine a place where birdsong fills the air instead of traffic noise. Where giant trees that have been growing since before America was born surround you. A pristine landscape where Florida panthers, river otters, and wading birds thrive. Southwest Florida has such an untouched place, roughly midway between Fort Myers and Naples.  

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has a history extending back more than 100 years, when the fledgling National Audubon Society placed the first warden in the wilds of Corkscrew Swamp to protect a colony of wading birds from plume hunters. The warden effectively saved thousands of great egrets, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and other birds nesting in the giant bald cypress trees that grow where the water runs deep. 

Decades later, the cypress trees themselves were threatened by the logging industry that had already buzzed through Big Cypress and Fakahatchee Strand. The local community helped purchase a few thousand acres of land that in 1954 became the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.   

Just 12 miles east of I-75, the sanctuary now protects 13,450 acres of pristine Florida wilderness. Visitors often start seeing nature well before arriving: Along the entry road, common sights include wild turkeys, sandhill cranes, and red-shouldered hawks.  

The Blair Audubon Center offers exhibits, the Nature Store, and bird-friendly gardens, and it serves as the gateway to the sanctuary’s world-famous 2.25-mile boardwalk. The boardwalk meanders through pine flatwood, wet prairie, marsh, and finally into the largest old-growth bald cypress forest remaining in North America. 

Impressive trees, bald cypresses are relatives of the redwood, towering 130 feet into the sky with girths up to 25 feet. Their massive branches are draped with mosses, bromeliads, ferns, and orchids. Visitors to Corkscrew Swamp can see a variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors throughout the year, while the gorgeous painted bunting is one of many winter visitors. The American alligator is a common sight, and photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail. 

With a small staff and dedicated volunteers, the sanctuary has a mission to preserve Corkscrew Swamp and support the conservation and restoration of natural ecosystems throughout the western Everglades. Staff members use science-driven land management and education to protect birds, other wildlife, and people. Visiting scientists and school students use the wild Florida habitat as a living natural history repository, while visitors from near and far rely on the lush, green space as an opportunity to rest their overstimulated brains, sit back, and enjoy the zen. The sanctuary relies on donations and community support.  


Renee Wilson is a communications associate for Audubon Florida. A graduate of the University of South Florida and a certified instructor for the Florida Master Naturalist program, she has lived in Southwest Florida since 1986.  



Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary 

375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples 


The Blair Audubon Center is open daily with timed admissions from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Preregistration is required to visit the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and to attend guided experiences such as the early birding walks, sunset strolls, and night walks. Guided experiences are limited to 10 participants and are offered several times per month.