Inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame in 1998, photographer Clyde Butcher is best known as the “Ansel Adams of Florida.” Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1942, Butcher claimed Florida as his home in 1980. Like most visitors, he was unaware that there was more to Florida than beaches until he was introduced to a part of the state most tourists and residents never see — the Everglades.
Today, in addition to sharing his award-winning art at his galleries in Sarasota, Venice, and Ochopee, Florida (and in Winnetka, Illinois), Butcher encourages visitors to experience the the state’s wild and beautiful hidden gems.
Butcher’s love of Florida’s wild side began in 1984 when he and his wife Niki visited Tom Gaskins’ Cypress Knee Museum in Fisheating Creek. While Niki reveled in Gaskins’ cypress-knee art, Butcher wandered back into the woods on Gaskins’ boardwalk. Butcher recalls: “This is where I first experienced the primeval beauty of Florida. I was stunned by the beauty and mysterious feeling of the environment. It was at that moment I fell in love with Florida.”
Around 3,000 years ago, early inhabitants used the cypress- and oak-lined creek as a “canoe highway” connecting eastern resources and western settlements to Lake Okeechobee. Located on the lake’s western side, this area offers excellent camping, canoeing, and hiking year round and is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, so be on the lookout for wading birds, white-tailed deer, alligators, and river otters.
You can access the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area via two entrances located north and west of Moore Haven.
Described by Butcher as “one of the most beautiful rivers in Florida,” the Loxahatchee has a Seminole name meaning “river of turtles.” Butcher describes his interaction with the river: “I was awed by its primeval feeling … it is truly a beautiful place.”
Butcher’s “secret river” features banks lined with ancient cypress trees and estuaries filled with mangroves and is Florida’s first federally designated “Wild and Scenic River.” Located in Jonathan Dickinson State Park near Hobe Sound, the 7.6-mile river was the site of a bloody battle in the Seminole Wars and was home to Trapper Nelson, the legendary “Wildman of the Loxahatchee.” Today, visitors can see diverse ecosystems and experience exciting history just minutes away from bustling city centers.
In addition to camping, hiking and picnicking, the park offers rental canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. One-hour guided horseback rides for grown folks or 15-minute pony rides are available for children under 6. For groups, there’s a big farm wagon, pulled by a team of Percheron draft horses.
To get an unequalled view of the river Butcher fell in love with, the Loxahatchee Queen pontoon boat takes visitors on a one-and-a-half-hour tour, stopping at the restored camp of Trapper Nelson.
Big Cypress National Preserve
The Big Cypress National Preserve is 729,000 acres of wetlands that supports the Everglades National Park. As America’s first national preserve, it’s home to myriad wildlife and provides the largest contiguous habitat for Florida’s protected panthers.
In 1992, Butcher bought a 13-acre former orchid farm known as Orchid Isles situated in the middle of the million-acre preserve. Here, he established his home and gallery. He explains, “Big Cypress National Preserve is my home, so I’m very partial to its beauty. No matter where I go in the Big Cypress, photographic opportunities abound.”
Visitors to Butcher’s gallery are invited to….
By Monica Lewman-Garcia
Photo: Clyde Butcher