Tag Archives: Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

Earth Day 2014 – Off the Beaten Path

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition 2012

Off the Beaten Path

By Elam Stoltzfus, Film Producer

 (In 2012, four explorers enter the Everglades and, 100 days later, reach the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition showed that the heart of Florida is still wild–and can still be saved.)

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition 2012 map
Elam with the Kayak getting ready to launch on the St. Johns River.
Elam with the kayak getting ready to launch on the St. Johns River.


For me, a filmmaker, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition was a once in a-life-time opportunity to showcase the landscapes, wildlife habitats, winding waterways and conservation legacies of Florida.  “The Wilds of Florida” was like an epic dream come true.  I guess it is as Dr. E.O. Wilson says, “[our] love for nature [is an] innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world”, that piques my continual interest in exploring and experiencing an in-depth connection with nature.

Media introduced me to fascinating stories and characters across Florida.   What I found in my journeys was a collection of true life stories, a trove of tall tales, dreamers for a better tomorrow, an active sportsman’s paradise and a diverse interaction with the natural world.

Some of my favorite moments during the expedition were early in the morning, especially on waterways with the morning fog rolling in.  One particular moment I recall was when we were on a tree island in the Everglades, and misty shower greeted the morning, followed by the sun breaking through the rainy clouds with a rainbow appearing over the sawgrass horizon.  In a moment’s notice, I quickly set up the camera. The composition was right there, five feet from the tent. Those were great moments of being immersed in a developing scene around you.

Elam on kayak filming the morning sunrise on the St. Johns River.  Image by Carlton Ward, Jr. 2012 copyright.
Elam on kayak filming the morning sunrise on the St. Johns River. Image by Carlton Ward, Jr. 2012 copyright.

Another scene I recall was a flock of roseate spoonbills along the St. John’s River.  It was shallow enough that I could move the kayak with my toes, and I moved slowly through the marsh, keeping the camera mounted on the kayak steady.  Finally I was within a few yards of them and got that really cool shot… to be able to capture those images is a gift.  And you cherish that time, that interaction between the camera and wildlife.

As a filmmaker, having the opportunity to listen to stories shared by the 90 on-camera video interviews with people, meeting with them in their area of comfort, and spending time with them was like having a front row seat in a college class. For many, this was an investment into the greater cause of the corridor concept. A number of them walked with us, some kayaked with the team, others rode horses along side with us and others supported us in their own way. With hours of interaction and recording time, these experts brought so much information to the story that was easily shared to the camera.  And if there is a richness to the whole story, it’s what people gave and shared and invested into the expedition. I’m so honored because that’s what makes the richness of the story–it’s those people and their stories.

During a visit at the Adams Ranch with Rancher Bud Adams
Carlton Ward, Elam Stoltzfus, Alto “Bud” Adams, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie.

As our team finished the odyssey that was the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a journalist asked me the question: “Can you give a sentence of your overview of the journey?”.  My immediate reply was “into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail”.  Certainly, our journey was an arduous one, with long days and grueling terrain. We followed spring weather from the southern tip of Florida in the Everglades all the way north to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Over 100 days we traversed 1,000 miles of some of the most beautiful locales of Florida’s heartland. But this journey couldn’t have happened with just us. All throughout our journey, from the moment is was merely an idea, there have been people pushing it to reality. From trail angels to pastors, from professors to teachers, from commanders to generals, from bear biologists to park rangers, from corporations to small businesses, from kids to parents, from people of every walk of life, you have supported our journey. 

As we traversed Florida’s landscape we collected a lot of pictures, video, and interviews. We discovered what brings us together, what we have in common. We all want to preserve the environment for current and future generations. We want to continue to see habitat restoration, endangered species protection, and cross-agency cooperation become a part of Florida’s landscape. During our expedition we experienced the real Florida. And this is what we have learned: Our journey is really just beginning. With your continued support we have the opportunity to bring this idea of the Florida Wildlife Corridor into reality. May our decibels increase as we express our concerns in a unified message. Like many journeys this will be one that is into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail.

As you celebrate Earth Day 2014, take time to reflect on some the greatest gifts we have been given, our wilds of Florida.  Engage in the great outdoors, observe wildlife and most of all, renew your spirit with warmth of the sun, feel the wind in your hair and feel the soil in our toes.   

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” 
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory




Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Elam Stoltzfus wins an Emmy!

By Nic Stoltzfus



1000 miles in 100 days. At the end of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, some people may have thought that the expedition was over and all the work finished. This is not the case. In the making of a film, post-production is one of the hardest stages and takes a lot of time and effort. The team at Live Oak Production Group, spear-headed by Elam Stoltzfus, edited over 90 interviews over a period of 5 months and sorted through over 80 hours of film footage to assemble the completed Florida Wildlife Corridor: Everglades to Okeefenokee. The film premiered on Earth Day weekend in Florida and was released on public television nationwide in June. It has been featured in several film festivals including the Sarasota Film Festival and the Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival. On Saturday, November 23rd at the 37th annual Suncoast Emmy Awards in Hollywood, Florida, it was announced that Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee won an Emmy for Documentary category.

The Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrates the best of television news in markets throughout the state of Florida, as well as markets in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Introduction to the Big Cypress National Preserve

Written by Elam Stoltzfus

October 7th, 2013


This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 1989 I made my first trip into the Big Cypress National Preserve. Bev and Mike Lewis of Silk Purse Productions in Tallahassee were producing a special PBS production about Clyde Butcher.  This introduction was filmed with Clyde, a fine-art landscape photographer, and his wife, Niki. They were a gracious host and hostess.


What I found upon entering was amazing; the vast prairie landscape was dotted with miniature bald cypress trees. There was beauty of big open sky space. I remember walking through the swamp grass and feeling the sponginess of the soil.  It was during the drier season of the year. We filmed in the Big Cypress area for several days. I recall climbing up a 12-foot ladder to film Clyde with his old pre-civil war view camera out in the middle of the prairie.  There was sense of smallness in the middle of this huge landscape, yet an intimate moment of interacting with this ancient land.


Fast forward to the year 2008 and 2009: I was spending weeks in the Big Cypress National Preserve putting together an hour-long documentary, The Big Cypress Swamp: the Western Everglades.  By this time Clyde Butcher had established the Big Cypress Gallery right in the middle of the Preserve along Highway 41.  With the use of their cottage, this was home base for almost two years of documenting the swamp.  The Preserve was a great partner providing logistics and giving me access to remote areas of the 700,000-acre region.


During my few years of documenting the Big Cypress region, I began to understand that this a hotbed of biological diversity. It contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

I have several great memories from my time filming the documentary. One was being with two landowners, Steve DeLine and “Hoss” Cartwright, during a trip to their hunting camp about halfway between Monroe Station and I-75 within the preserve.  The trip took five hours by swamp buggies.  The location was remote and very wild; located among a series of cypress domes.

Another moment was coming back from Bear Island Camp area and seeing a young panther crossing the road.  Sammy Tedder was traveling with me; he was able to get a quick image on his still camera.


One evening I had set up the camera and ladder, just north of Wagon Wheel Road to capture a time-lapse sunset.  As I was standing on the ladder (this takes about 45 minutes) waiting for the camera to capture the sequence, I heard some sloshing in the distance. The sound became more prominent and closer.  As I continue to scan the horizon for what was making this sound, I finally spotted a Florida Black Bear meandering around the cypress strand and slowing moving around to the right of my location.  I never moved and observed his movement until the bear disappeared in the distance.


Big Cypress Swamp provided me with an interaction with nature, up close and personal.  After spending so much of my time on location to document the “Eden swamp”, I took a bit of the swamp that now is part of my soul, but I also left a bit of my soul in the deep swamp of the Western Everglades.


Now, fast forward again to 2012, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition traveled through the Big Cypress National Preserve as we transversed from the Everglades to Okefenokee.  Its here we met up with Bob DeGross, Big Cypress Preserve Chief Park Interpreter, and Franklin Adams, Florida Wildlife Federation Board member. They both talked about the importance to have large-scale wilderness areas for wildlife and for people. These places of quiet, remote wilderness are for the healing of the soul and renewal of the spirit.  The Expedition team camped out in the primitive camp ground before hiking through the addition lands on our way to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation.


For more information about the Big Cypress Swamp: Western Everglades go to: http://www.bigcypressswamp.org/home.html or http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/big-cypress-national-preserve. The National Preserve has a Visitor’s welcome center with a theatre and an educational display to learn more about the Big Cypress Swamp.

For more information about landscape photographer Clyde Butcher visit www.ClydeButcher.com.  A must see place is the Clyde Butcher Gallery along Highway 41, halfway between Naples and Miami.