Winter days on Fort Myers Beach are usually bright and clear; the reason we all live here or visit, making it the perfect time to enjoy the free walks offered by Lee County Parks & Recreation.
The “Barrier Island Ramble” is at Bowditch Point Park, the 17-acre natural jewel at the northern tip of Estero Island. Barry Fulmer, a volunteer, leads our Ramble. He says that since volunteers guide the walks, “each is completely different.”
Lee County purchased the park site in 1987 and opened it in February 1994. Dredging spoil piles from Matanzas Pass make it the highest elevation on Estero Island at 22 feet above sea level. “It has lots of trails that go every which way,” Barry explains. Near the shelter he points out a gumbo limbo tree, with red and peeling bark, saying its nickname is “the tourist tree because visitors get red and peeling skin from too much sun!”
We spot a gopher tortoise, a “keystone species” that digs burrows that provide shelter for at least 360 other animals; a keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its numbers. The gopher tortoise is roughly one foot in diameter, burrows down 3 to 4 feet deep into hillsides, and is strictly vegetarian. Barry shows us a Sabal Palm, Florida’s state tree, adding that people refer to it as the “boots” palm because of its unusual protruding bark: “Cowboys would hang their wet boots from these to dry, or would break them off for shoehorns.”
He leads us to Matanzas Pass, an estuary from the Estero and Caloosahatchee Rivers. “Estuaries are where fresh and salt water meet. They are a feeding ground for birds, fish and wildlife, and crucial to the ecosystem – that is why we have mangroves here.” Barry relates that you can often see dolphins, as well as manatees, now that the Gulf is cooling. “That is what is great about Bowditch Point – you never know what you will experience.” At that instant, as if on cue, a pod of dolphins spring from the Gulf!
The “Barrier Island Ramble” is at Bowditch Point Park every Tuesday and Friday through March 31, excluding holidays, from 9:30 to 11 a.m., with parking $2 per hour. If you cannot Ramble, Parks & Recreation offers “Life in the Mangroves” at Matanzas Pass Preserve at 199 Bay Road on Thursdays through March 30 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., with free limited parking. This examines the diverse plants and animals in this maritime oak hammock, transitional wetland, and mangrove forest.
“Exploring Ethnobotany” is offered at Matanzas Pass Wednesdays through April 12 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Learn the importance of native plants as food, shelter, medicine, and clothing, and discover how the Calusa Indians and early settlers used these. “Life Along the Shore” is at Bunche Beach Preserve at 18201 John Morris Road in Fort Myers, 33908, on Mondays except holidays through April 24 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., with parking $2 per hour. Explore the shoreline while meandering the San Carlos Bay ecosystem.
All walks are free, though some require paid parking. For complete information, go to www.leeparks.org. Experience the unique natural treasure that is Estero Island today!
Photos by Michele Kalka