Bowditch Point Walk
The weather was cool and overcast as 12 hardy souls attended the free “Bowditch Point Park” Interpretive Walk at the 17-acre natural gem at the northern tip of Estero Island, managed by Lee County Parks & Recreation, but by the time we finished 90 minutes later, skies were clear and temperatures warm. Barry Fulmer, a 4-year volunteer originally from New Jersey, led our program that began at the pavilion. Area parks offer a variety of free nature walks during season. Bowditch Point Park was my destination for this article.
Lee County purchased the park site in 1987, broke ground in 1992, and hosted the grand opening in February 1994. It was the last remaining undeveloped land on Estero Island with a shoreline on the Gulf and Back Bay. It is home to dredging spoil piles from Matanzas Pass that make it the highest elevation on Estero Island at 22 feet above sea level. “Seven acres feature manmade developments like the pavilion and restroom,” said Barry, “with the remaining ten in its natural state.”
Barry told us that Nathanial Bowditch, the park’s namesake, was an early American mathematician who lived from 1773 to 1838. “His great contribution is his work on ocean navigation, and his seminal book, ‘The New American Practical Navigator,’ first published in 1802, which is still aboard every commissioned United States vessel. He was from Salam, Massachusetts, almost certainly never visited Florida, much less Fort Myers Beach, but many points of land that stick out into the water are named after him.”
As we began, Barry showed us a gumbo limbo tree near the pavilion, with red and peeling bark, indicating its nickname is the “tourist tree because so many visitors get red and peeling skin from too much sun!” We look for gopher tortoises that are native to the Southeastern United States, the only tortoise originally from North America, and prevalent at Bowditch Point. “They are a ‘keystone species,’” said Barry, “that digs burrows that provide shelter for at least 360 other animals, as keystone species have a disproportionately large effect on their environment relative to its numbers. They are roughly one foot in diameter, burrow 3 to 4 feet into hillsides, orients its burrow to face the sun, and are strictly vegetarian.” Most likely due to the cool temperatures, however, we did not spot any.
Boots & Jellies
The group encountered the Sabal Palm, Florida’s state tree. Barry added that people often refer to it as “boots” because of its unusual protruding bark that extends out from the trunk. “Cowboys who worked the land would hang their wet boots from these to dry or would break them off for shoehorns.” We came across sea grapes, “that are full of berries,” he explained, “that are excellent for jellies and jams.”
He led us to Matanzas Pass, explaining, “Estuaries are where fresh and salt water meet. They are a feeding ground for birds, fish, and wildlife, and crucial to the ecosystem. We have mangroves here. Red mangroves grow closest to water, black mangroves in drier areas, with whites in the driest locations. They stabilize the shoreline and are critical to our environment, especially during hurricanes and major storms. Mangroves help to collect sediments that capture sands to allow the beach to expand, offer a safe place for small birds and animals, the growth of sea oats and dunes to keep erosion at bay, and we ensure there is space between them for sea turtle nesting.”
Barry displayed several old photographs to show that over 70 years ago, there was no Bowditch Point Park to protect! “In 1944, where we are standing today, this was water! By 1953 the sand moved north to form a small part of it. By 1958, more sand filled in most of the park site, until it was all here by 1970. That is the marvelous thing about a barrier island – it is dynamic and alive. If humans would not interfere, today Estero Island would grow out into the channel.”
As he related that, many in our party “Ooh-&-Aah” at a bottlenose dolphin dancing in the wake of a passing boat! “This is a great spot to see dolphins,” offered Barry, “with manatees and sea turtles, though not much of those two now, as the Gulf water is too cool.” Those visiting ask Barry about the cause of the poor Summer 2018 water quality. “Clean water is an on-going struggle, and very complicated,” he explained. “It is not just Blue-Green Algae, Red Tide, Lake Okeechobee releases, or fertilizer but all those and more.” We walk for roughly one mile at a comfortable pace over 90 minutes, with frequent stops to examine what we see.
FMB Nature Walks
Bowditch Point Park is at 50 Estero Boulevard, with free nature walks every other Tuesday, on February 26, March 12 & 26, from 9:30 to 11 a.m.; and every Friday through April 26 from 9 to 10:30 a.m.; parking $2-per-hour.
Lee County Parks & Recreation offers as well the San Carlos Bay – Bunche Beach Preserve Nature Walk on Wednesdays through April 24 at 18201 John Morris Road, across from Fort Myers Beach, to learn about shorebirds and aquatic creatures of this natural beach preserve from 9 to 10:30 a.m.; free with parking $2-per-hour.
Matanzas Pass Preserve offers two free nature walks at 199 Bay Road. “Exploring Ethnobotany” is each Wednesday through April 24, where you learn how the Calusa Indians used native plants as food and shelter. “Life in the Mangroves” is Thursdays through March 28 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Discover diverse plants and animals of the mangrove preserve. No reservations necessary, free but limited parking; for information, call 239-432-2154 or see www.leeparks.org.
Lovers Key State Park hosts nature walks, programs, kayak and bicycle tours free with park admission on select days year-round at 10 a.m. Bring bug spray, sunblock, water, sunglasses, camera, and hat. Lovers Key is open every day from 8 a.m. to sundown, with $8-per-car admission for 2 to 8 people, $4 for single occupant vehicles or motorcycles, and $2 pedestrians and bicyclists at 8700 Estero Boulevard; for information and reservations, call 239-463-4588 or see www.floridastateparks.org/loverskey.
The Mound House presents the “Guided Beach Walk” at Newton Park at 4650 Estero Boulevard Tuesdays year-round at 9 a.m. While the hour-long walk is free and does not require reservations, parking is $3-per-hour. Volunteers identify things found on the beach, meaning no two walks are the same. 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.
“By The Light of The Moon” is each Full Moon Night at Matanzas Pass Preserve through April. The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve conduct this free and experiential hands-on program to awaken and sharpen your senses. Volunteers carry candle-lit lanterns as night descends and the moon rises. It lasts 90 minutes, is open to adults only, and limited to 12 participants; RSVPs necessary roughly one week in advance at 239-747-3446. Matanzas Pass Preserve is not ADA-accessible; wear shoes to get wet and take photographs only when the moon rises; free with appreciated donations. Moon Walks are scheduled on March 20, beginning at 7:08pm and April 19 at 7:23pm.
Discover a different side of Fort Myers Beach on these nature walks and programs!
By Gary Mooney