The wild treasures of Florida are often hidden in plain sight. Nestled between the sprawling metropolitan areas of Tampa and Orlando, the Green Swamp is one of four statewide Areas of Critical State Concern and vital to protecting resources for Florida’s ever-growing population.
The Green Swamp forms the headwaters of four major rivers: Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough, and Peace – the source of much of Central Florida’s water supply. Of these, the Hillsborough River is the primary drinking water source for the city of Tampa, and portions of the Tampa bay region. This protected land provides critical watershed and floodplain protection and recharges the Floridan Aquifer. The underground Floridan aquifer rises very close to the surface in the Green Swamp; protecting this area means protecting the water supply for all Floridians.
I recently ventured to the Green Swamp as a respite from my urban surroundings. Within moments of stepping onto the Florida Trail, I was reminded of its beauty and critical importance. I hiked for 14 miles through a vast diversity of habitats: upland hardwoods, pine flatwoods, wet prairies, marshes, cypress domes, and floodplain swamps. The natural communities of the Green Swamp are home to an estimated 330 species of wildlife, including 30 threatened or endangered species. It is here – under the canopy of Spanish moss-draped oak trees, beneath the shadows of this place teeming with life – that I feel most at home. The Green Swamp is a symbol for so many other natural places in Florida: hidden gems of natural significance that, upon which many of us, unknowingly, rely.
The majority of the M-CORES Northern Turnpike study, where the Green Swamp is located, is identified as priority land for aquifer recharge. When open land, which naturally cleans water of pollutants and recharges our aquifers, is consumed by development, those environmental services are lost forever. If we continue to needlessly pave rural Florida and replace natural and working lands with strip malls, neighborhoods, and roads to nowhere, we will speed up the decline of Florida’s water resources.
If we allow the Roads to Ruin to bisect the treasure that is the Green Swamp, we will lose both a water resource and a piece of Natural Florida. But you can help stop the destruction. There is no time to wait – the future of our state’s water supply is at stake! Voice your concern by asking the Florida Department of Transportation to put the brakes on the toll roads process.