Everglades National Park is the third-largest federally-protected ecosystem preserved in the continental United States. Located in the state of Florida, it accounts for a quarter of the entire Everglades region, a subtropical wilderness with diverse plant and wildlife. Visited by roughly one million people each year, the national park covers an area of 1,494,970 acres (6,049.9 square km). Everglades National Park is also on the list of World Heritage Sites, deemed one of the most important locations in human history.
The Everglades has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is believed that the first humans settled in the region at least 12,000 years ago. The Native American tribes of the Tequesta and the Calusa made their homes in the eastern and western portions of the wilderness respectively. According to archaeological evidence, the Tequesta were a single large tribe living on the Miami River. The Calusa, on the other hand, were spread out amongst many different villages near the Kissimmee River, Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Gulf of Mexico.
In the 1700s, Spanish conquest forced the Creeks into the region. A combination of European disease and warfare with the Creeks essentially wiped out the native populations. The remnants merged with the Creeks and escaped slaves to form the Seminole nation, eventually launching a major conflict with the United States that ended in 1842. Relocation programs sent most of the Seminole population west, save for a few scattered groups. Over the next century, much of the area remained uninhabited until 1928, when construction of the Tamiami Trail, a 264 mile (about 443 km) highway, brought white Americans to the Everglades.
Plans to turn the area into a park began in earnest in the 1920s. During the height of the Great Depression, the US Congress made it a National Park with no funding. Slowly the park suffered from ecological problems caused by continued development and a lack of water. By the 1960s, a political push brought the US Army Corps of Engineers in to build dams and repair damage. In 1972, the environmental damage was finally assessed by the government and legislation was passed to repair the Everglades National Park.
The Everglades has the distinction of being the only national park in the US that was established to restore the wilderness to its pristine condition rather than for preservation. Today, visitors can take part in numerous national park activities such as hiking along trails and watching wildlife. Everglades National Park also offers some of the largest Florida camping access in the state, enabling people to enjoy the natural environment as it once was.