by Sally Wilson,
Development & Special Event Director of
The Alliance for Florida’s National Parks

The Alliance for Florida’s National Parks, the official fundraiser for Florida’s National Parks is all about raising awareness about the importance for Florida’s Ecosystem that leads to the stewardship of neighboring natural areas.

One of the educational programs offered to every 6th grader in Collier County as part of their science curriculum, is right in Naples’ backyard at Big Cypress National Preserve.

The program is called Swamp Water and Me Program (S.W.A.M.P) an environmental educational program for sixth grade science classes in the Collier County School District. The program focuses on the Big Cypress National Preserve, its major habitats, flora, fauna, while highlighting the Florida panther and American alligator.

S.W.A.M.P is educating the next generation of students about the importance of Big Cypress and the Greater Everglades ecosystem to Southwest Florida.

S.W.A.M.P is a four-part program which includes a teacher and student guide, a mandatory teacher workshop, a pre-site visit by a ranger to the classroom and a field trip to the Preserve.

Leaders for the day are the National Park Service Rangers who guide students through three different habitats making up Big Cypress National Preserve –cypress dome, the pinelands, and a sawgrass prairie.

A variety of hands-on, inquiry-based activities are performed by students on the trip including tracking a panther, collecting data with water and soil samples, weather testing and animal identification. This program teaches students that the world can be their laboratory. The experience is hands-on, engaging and before participating in S.W.A.M.P only one in four students could identify the source of their drinking water.

Student responses range from:

  • Today was eye-opening. This is my backyard.
  • Before going into the swamp, a student said that it was going to be scary. 10 minutes later it was “awesome”.
  • I want to be a park ranger when I grow up.
  • The swamp is breathtaking!
  • Nature makes the best playground.
  • I am going to beg my mom to bring me here for my birthday.
  • This was the most adventurous day of my life.
  • Yeah! I forgot trees are alive.
  • I was so excited to come out to the swamp that I could barely sleep last night.
  • This was the best field trip ever; I want to come here every day!

The Alliance provides students with all the materials the need to collect data. In addition to water and soil, they identify animals in the habitat. They use a water/soil depth measuring stick, thermometers, pH dipsticks and water collecting bottles. For weather, they use a compass, relative humidity chart and anemometer. The students begin the day with lunch, and then divide into groups through three different habitats.

S.W.A.M.P. is made possible through donations to The Alliance for Florida’s National Parks. Established in 2002, their mission is to provide environmental education, preservation and protection, community engagement, restoration and exploration inside Florida’s four national parks which includes Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks, as well as Big Cypress National Preserve.

Funds for this one-of-a-kind educational program are raised throughout the year, but especially during the 8th Annual Wine & Wildlife Celebration. This year the event is being hosted by Naples philanthropist Susan Jones. There will be heavy hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent/live auction, and awards. The event is February 13, 2024 at the Naples Sailing & Yacht Club, 896 River Point Dr. Tickets, tables and sponsorships are available at

The Clyde Butcher: A Better Florida award is presented yearly during the event and recognizes individuals who champion the preservation and accessibility of Florida’s pristine resources. Artists from various disciplines, such as photography, painting, writing and more are eligible. Their work should focus on ecological issues and align with the Alliance for Florida’s National Parks. To nominate an artist go to

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