Lesson Plan

Park or Preserve?


When Big Cypress National Preserve was created, many local residents were concerned that they would be further excluded from enjoying the area in their traditional fashion. The "National Preserve" designation was created to allow these people to continue their enjoyment of the land while still preserving the natural environment.

Students research the ways that the Preserve continues to respect these traditional methods of enjoyment; they also distinguish between a national park and a preserve.


  • Students will understand the purpose of the National Park System and the types of places that are protected by the NPS.
  • Students will distinguish between a National Park and a National Preserve.
  • Students will identify the various ways in which NPS employees and visitors managee, explore and interact within the preserve and why.


 For this lesson, students will use computers with internet in order to complete research.


Ask students:
What is the purpose of the National Park System?
How do national parks differ from national preserves and other areas protected by the National Park System?
In what ways does the park system allow for humans to interact with the natural environment within a park or preserve boundaries?

Complete a class-wide reading on the history of the National Park Service. Students should understand the purpose of the NPS. History should end around the implementation of Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserve. 

To determine the ways in which parks allow for human interaction with the natural environment, discuss why the park service was founded. Most students will assume that humans are not allowed to alter the natural environment, or that they may take hikes and camp. They will probably assume that animals do not get killed, especially not by park personnel and definitely not through hunting. The teacher may pose these questions to students to get them thinking.

The class should be split into six groups: Invasive species, wildfire ecology, off-road vehicle use, commercial service providers, endangered species, and hunting.
Groups will be responsible for researching their topic to determine their role within the park service. They must organize information in a way to explain the ways that humans interact with and alter the natural environment. They should also designate whether their topic is present in all National Park Service sites or within sites designated as preserves. Teachers can and should guide students or provide a list of websites with which to start (primarily the National Park Service websites!)

Finally, students will present their research to other groups. An effective method is to "jig saw" students so that new groups are formed with one member from each topical group in each new group. The students from each topical group are responsible for explaining their topic, including information on whether or not their topic occurs in a national park or a national preserve. 


To assess learning, the teacher should evaluate the research and presentation that each group produced during the class sessions.


 To go beyond, students should go deeper into their area of study.

Invasive species: Research invasive species in Big Cypress National Preserve. Determine which is the most dangerous to the park ecosystem and what strategies they will use to eradicate the species. Where did the invasive species originate, and what steps have been taken to alleviate its presence? Choose one animal and one plant.

Wildfire: Determine optimal conditions for a prescribed burn and plan a prescribed burn within Big Cypress National Preserve (see related lesson plan).

Off-road Vehicles: Research recent lawsuits that involve ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve. What are their arguments, and how do they relate to the original rational for allowing ORV use in the Preserve?

Commercial Business Operators: Design a business that will operate within Big Cypress National Preserve. Be sure to research requirements for commercial service providers to ensure that your business will be approved to operate within the Preserve.

Endangered Species: The most famous endangered species within Big Cypress National Preserve is the Florida Panther. How have strategies to save the panther worked, and what are their limitations? 

Hunting: Plan a hunting trip into Big Cypress National Preserve. What requirements does one need to fulfill? How have hunters worked with the Preserve to reduce numbers for certain invasive species (wild hogs, reptiles)?

Students can also design their own protected area and label it as a national park or a national preserve, including a description on why it would earn that designation.