Because Robert Silk is both knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, there was a good chance his book would be a success. Add the long years of experience Mr. Silk has had sharpening his craft as a writer, and the result is something like a minor masterpiece.
Though written for the breed of tourist recently defined as eco-aware or eco-sensitive, Mr. Silk’s well-planned and fact-filled guide can be a source of knowledge, entertainment and inspiration to anyone interested in the wide-open spaces of South Florida and Southwest Florida. He gives these coastal sections of the peninsula and the inlands that connect them the encompassing name “southern Florida.”
As Mr. Silk helps us imaginatively discover the vast protected areas available for our relaxed exploration, he provides the context of water management and mismanagement that has led to the various restoration projects that are renewing the health of these collaborative ecosystems: the swamplands and forests of the Everglades, and the string of islands collectively known as the Florida Keys. These distinct systems depend on and complete one another while maintaining experiential uniqueness for the visitor.
The author selects for us the optimum times of the year for our ecotourist adventures, while letting us know that any time will do if it’s all that we have: Just be ready for the extreme heat, the regular downpours, and the ferocious mosquitoes if you explore during the summer months.
He prepares for us the strong points of each public site, covering national and state parks, preserves and animal refuges, whether large, small or almost secret. He also attends to the private businesses that live off and accessorize these public natural wonders: restaurants, camps, bike rentals and rentals of small, armpowered watercraft. He offers his favorites and shares which ones others favor, always providing contact information.
Salivate if you must over Mr. Silk’s descriptions of such places as Big Cypress National Preserve, Ivy House Bed and Breakfast, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Lara Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, Collier Seminole State Park, Marathon Turtle Hospital, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, Redland Fruit and Spice Park and (take a deep breath) Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.
Find out where to observe the alligators and crocodiles, the roseate spoonbills, Key deer, great white herons, panthers, manatees and the hundreds and hundreds of species (many unique to this environment) that make these expanses home.
Do you just like scenery? Mr. Silk has expert suggestions. By airboat? More suggestions. By canoe? More suggestions. On foot through mucky waters? His advice is sound.
And don’t forget to stop and smell the orchids.
Mr. Silk gives special emphasis to certain topics by presenting his words against a gray background. This treatment highlights sections on Invasive Species, Birding Southern Florida, Cypress Domes, Key West Cemetery and Homesteads’ Mexican Restaurants, among other items of interest.
“An Ecotourist’s Guide … ” is made even more reader-friendly by the abundance of illustrations it contains, many of them photographs by the author. And for readers who need to go back to check on some information in the book, he provides an efficient index.
The style and substance of this fine book, more one side of a friendly conversation than academic tome, makes it a valuable item for any resident of southern Florida, and a splendid gift item as well.
About the author
Robert Silk is the Florida tourism and airlines editor for Travel Weekly and a former senior staff writer for the Key West Citizen/Florida Keys Free Press. ¦
¦ “An Ecotourist’s Guide to the Everglades & the Florida Keys” by Robert Silk. Foreword by Clyde Butcher. University Press of Florida. 216 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.
— Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English, is a poet, critic and freelance writer with 20 books to his credit, including several studies of war literature and a creative writing text. ¦