By Elam Stoltzfus
Link to a 90 second interstitial sponsored by WUSF
Travel north from Okeechobee for about 30 miles and you will reach the Kissimmee Praire Preserve State Park. It is a large tract, 54,000 acres, that protects one of the largest remaining stretches of Florida dry prairie and is home to an array of endangered plants and animals. From the entrance it’s a long drive into the park headquarters and the campground, at least 5 or 6 miles. We usually don’t compare Florida’s landscape to the great plains of the Midwest, but Kissimmee prairie is grassland as far as the eye can see.
During the production of the documentary Kissimmee Basin: The Northern Everglades this area became one of my go-to places to film wildlife. The preserve offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as the Crested Caracara and Burrowing Owl.
Early one morning, just at sunrise, I was traveling the main road in dense fog; I spotted a group of white-tailed deer foraging in the grass. In the herd was about 5 bucks with several sporting large antlers. This was a documentary filmmaker’s dream with the glow of morning light, soft fog, and tranquil deer.
Later that morning I filmed a short segment on the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. This was a rare occasion to have the opportunity to document one of Florida’s most endangered birds.
One of the best ways to get out on the preserve is take the swamp buggy tour with one of the park rangers. The ranger provides an is an excellent commentary on the landscape of the Kissimmee river basin, the vast trail system, and first-hand accounts on how the preserve is being managed.
Another great thing to do at the preserve is stargazing. The Kissimmee Prairie’s remoteness makes it one of Florida’s premier locations for stargazing. This is on my bucket list to capture a series of time-lapse images of the stars across the prairies.
During the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 the team trekked and camped at the preserve. After a grueling day, four grubby explorers were grateful for a camping facility with hot showers, electricity and running water.
With lots of things to see and do, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is definitely one of my top ten places to film and photograph in Florida. I hope you take time to explore and experience this unique landscape of Florida.