I live along Highway 41, the famous Tamiami Trail that goes through the Everglades and Big Cypress between Naples and Miami. This is considered the last wild frontier in Florida.
And on the frontier's edge, the small, unincorporated town known as Ochopee, pronounced "Oh-Chop-ee." It is famous for the world's smallest post office, made from a tool shed in 1953 when the old post office burned down. They have never needed any bigger one. There is only room for one person at a time to stand inside.
And equally wild as Ochopee, is the Trail Lakes Campground, known all over the world as home of the Skunk Ape Research Center. Owner David Shealy is the self-proclaimed expert on the Florida Skunk Ape, Florida's version of Sasquatch. Shealy has produced a movie on the quest to find the skunk ape. He demands that the local parks allow access to more skunk ape research, quit hiding the fact that they know they are out there, and release all their secret documents and research on it. He is passionate in his quest, and hates park rangers wearing a badge. And the feeling is mutual.
I myself actually enjoy the fact that he is there. You need something to make life interesting out here. He is part of the local ambiance.
I have probably inadvertently sold a lot of copies of his DVD. I got a copy and played it to my friends and co-workers, the other park rangers. They in turn also purchased copies, or their friends and relatives did. Their friends come to town, and the skunk ape research center is high on their list of sightseeing. I showed the movie to my friend Ralph, when he was manager of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, identified by Shealy as ground zero for skunk ape sightings.
Inside art of the DVD:
Last summer when the movie came out, I would sit in my park ranger trailer, all alone in the cypress swamp of Fakahatchee, and wondered why I had not been privileged with a skunk ape sightings. When I had weekend ranger duty out in Fakahatchee, I would wonder when I was driving my park truck down Janes Scenic Drive, why I only saw deer, beer, alligators, turtles, and even a panther cross the road. Why won't the skunk ape come out and show himself? When I would get on an ATV and drive out in the remote areas of the preserve on the abandoned logging tramlines, why the skunk ape still eluded me. All the other rangers at Fakahatchee were in similar predicament. They hadn't seen our elusive resident either. Our biologist has been here since 1991, and he has yet to see one. What are we doing wrong? We are out there everyday!
The movie/DVD actually has very good production qualities. The filming and the soundtrack are excellent. Along with the movie is included a CD of the soundtrack. It is all original music and folk songs of Ochopee.
One question I have always had: Why does Shealy spell Ochopee as Ochoppee?