Preserve Closure Causes Changes
While most people associate Fort Myers Beach with white sand beaches and beautiful Gulf waters, it is full of unique environments, with several organizations offering free nature programs, though most have a parking fee. Restoration is closing one natural treasure, however, due to a major weather event from over two years ago, causing a ripple effect throughout the nature walks schedule. There remains, however, at least one Fort Myers Beach event each Tuesday through Friday morning.
When Hurricane Irma slammed into Fort Myers Beach on September 10, 2017, it caused significant damage to the 60-acre Matanzas Pass Preserve at 199 Bay Road. Lee County recently closed the Preserve until Summer 2020 for boardwalk, bench, bridges, pavilion and kayak launch repairs. The Preserve is one of the few large undeveloped and protected areas left on Fort Myers Beach that is home to a diversity of native plants and animals, including a maritime oak hammock, transitional wetland and mangrove forest full of raccoon, rabbit, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, herons, fish and songbirds. It is on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail and Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail.
There are unfortunately three casualties due to the Preserve closure and construction, as Lee County had to cancel its 2020 seasonal nature walks there each Wednesday and Thursday morning, along with the Estero Island Historic Society closing its cottages at the MPP entry until restoration is complete.
Guided Beach Walk
The historic Mound House hosts its “Guided Beach Walk” at Newton Beach Park, located near mid-island at 4650 Estero Boulevard, Tuesdays year-round, weather permitting, at 9 a.m. Town volunteers lead the “Guided Beach Walk” that has a simple premise – you walk roughly a half-mile down the beach and back, and discuss whatever the group finds that particular morning, with the wind and waves dictating what comes up each day, so no two programs are ever the same. As you go along, other beachgoers tend to discover you and join in on the fun!
On “Guided Beach Walks,” you will find parchment worm tubes, Calico crabs, Jingle shells, Sea Pork, mollusk snails, soft sea coral, fighting conch shells, giant Heart cockle, different Pen shells, Red mangrove seedlings, snail shells, Blood Ark shells and more! Meet at the thatched hut and wear sunscreen, shoes that can get wet, sunglasses, and hat if necessary. While the walk is free, parking is $3-per-hour; plan on two hours. No reservations necessary; for details call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.
Natural Communities of Bowditch
On Tuesday, you can take part as well in the “Exploring the Five Natural Communities of Bowditch Point Park” through March 31 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tour the interesting landscapes of Bowditch, as this program affords visitors a unique opportunity to experience its five natural plant communities: beach dune, coastal strand, coast grassland, mangrove swamp and restoration natural aspect; meet at the pavilion area tables. The walk is free, with parking at $2-an-hour.
Bowditch Point Park is a 17-acre natural gem managed by Lee County Parks & Recreation at 50 Estero Boulevard that is the northern tip of Estero Island. See gumbo limbo trees, gopher tortoises, Sabal Palms that are the Florida State tree, all three beach varieties of mangroves, sea oats, bottlenose dolphin, manatees and an assortment of birds and small animals. Due to the shifting sands of Fort Myers Beach, there was no Bowditch Point Park 75 years ago, until sand continued to filter north, eventually filling in the park site by 1970, proving that a barrier island is dynamic and alive!
Life Along the Shore
While technically not on Fort Myers Beach, Bunche Beach Preserve at 18201 John Morris Road is right across from the bay from Bowditch Point Park. On Wednesdays through April 29, attend “Life Along the Shore” to learn about shorebirds and aquatic creatures on this natural beach preserve from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Free; $2-an-hour parking. Since Bunche Beach, operated by Lee County Parks & Recreation, is a preserve, never take away anything you find on the program or at any other visit.
Although part of the mainland, the 718-acre Bunche Beach acts like a barrier island, as it stretches out along San Carlos Bay between Sanibel and Bowditch Point. Much like a typical barrier island, it is wider at the ends and narrower in the center, forming its own crescent shape. See plume worm “houses,” parchment worms, “green sea lettuce” seaweed, oyster shells, sea grapes, various crabs, Sea Oxeye Daisies, Nickerbeans, and all three beach varieties of mangroves that are Bunche Beach’s defining aspect. Since Bunche Beach tends to be home to many worms, it is a favorite spots for birds, especially right after high tide when it is awash in food and not so with people.
To reach Bunche Beach from Fort Myers Beach, take San Carlos Boulevard to Summerlin Road and turn left, as if going to Sanibel. The first major intersection is John Morris Road; turn left, with the roughly one-mile road dead-ending into the beach and parking area. There are no trails, nor dogs allowed, as Bunche is a protected birding habitat. Bunche Beach is open every day of the year from 7 a.m. to dusk, with nature walks beginning at the sign at the end of the parking area. Absolutely wear shoes that you will get wet, with sunglasses, camera, and sunscreen recommended. You will walk approximately one mile, but at a slow casual pace, with frequent spots to discuss what you find, so drinking water is optional. No reservations necessary; for information call 239-533-7275 or see firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guided Beach Walk
If you liked the “Guided Beach Walk” at Newton Beach Park on Tuesdays, you will love it on Thursdays! This season, for the first time, the Mound House will conduct “Guided Beach Walks” on Thursdays, except for Jan 23, weather permitting, through April 30 at 9 a.m. Free; no reservations necessary, with parking $3-an-hour. Meet at the thatched hut and wear sunscreen, shoes to get wet, sunglasses and hat; for details call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.
Coastal Ecology Beach Walk
On Jan 23, a Mound House educator will explore the variety of species that are found along the shoreline. Meet at the Newton Beach Park Cottage, 4650 Estero Blvd. Free for Mound House members; $5 for non-members.
This is another first-time Thursday program, with Lee County Parks & Recreation holding “Everything Changes” through March 26 at Bowditch Point Park at 50 Estero Boulevard from 9 to 10 a.m. Examine how the tides, storms and erosion changes beaches over the course of time. Free, no reservations necessary, parking $2-an-hour. For information, call 239-533-7275 or see email@example.com.
Barrier Island Ramble
Each Friday through April, Lee County Parks offers Barrier Island Ramble at Bowditch Point Park from 9-10:30am. Learn about the nature of barrier islands and how plants and animals adapt to this fragile island ecosystem. Free with $2/hour parking.
Lovers Key Programs
Lovers Key State Park (LKSP), just off the southern end of Fort Myers Beach, hosts a variety of nature programs, kayak and bicycle tours free on select days by reservation only at 10 a.m. There is a different one offered most Friday mornings, on a year-round basis, rotating in-and-out 6 or 7 primary ones, like on gopher tortoises, dolphins, manatees, and sharks, with an odd topic every so often.
Bring bug spray, sunblock, water, sunglasses, camera, and hat. Lovers Key is open daily 8 a.m. to sundown, with $8-per-car admission for 2 to 8 people, $4 single occupant vehicles and motorcycles, and $2 pedestrians and bicyclists at 8700 Estero Boulevard. For information, call 239-463-4588.
“By The Light of The Moon”
The biggest shift caused by the Matanzas Pass Preserve restoration is the relocation of the popular monthly program, “By The Light of The Moon,” to Bowditch Point Park. Held each Full Moon night through April, the Friends of MPP conduct this free experimental hands-on program to awaken your senses and night vision. Volunteers carry candle-lit lanterns as night descends and the moon rises.
The program is more about your senses than nature, complete with Full Moon facts and poetry. Guides lead the way by lantern light, because candles summon the spirit of the Calusa Indians, and they provide each participant a walking stick because at night, it is difficult to see where you are going. “By The Light of The Moon” lasts 90 minutes, is open to adults only, and limited to 12 participants; Reservations necessary at walkwiththemoon.com. Wear shoes to get wet, and take photographs only when the moon rises. Free, with donations appreciated.
Discover all these natural treasures for yourself on a Fort Myers Beach nature walk!