Matanzas Preserve Turns 40


    Celebration April 6th

    The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve (MPP) will host a “40th Anniversary Dedication Celebration” for the site on Saturday, April 6, at 10 a.m. “Sheena Brook, who represented Fort Myers Beach so well on ‘The Voice” a few seasons back, provides the musical entertainment,” said Vicki Little of Lee County Parks & Recreation who is a current MPP Board Member. “We will have guided tours, food and vendors, along with recognizing the Preserve’s significant supporters. We are so fortunate, as having a 60-acre Preserve like this on a 7-mile barrier island is unheard of!”

    MPP is one of the few large undeveloped and protected areas left on Fort Myers Beach. It is home to a diversity of native plants and animals, including a maritime oak hammock, transitional wetland and a mangrove forest full of raccoon, rabbit, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, herons, fish and songbirds. It has a 1.25-mile ADA-accessible boardwalk, bayside pavilion with a majestic view of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, and is on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail and Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail. MPP is at 199 Bay Road, just down the sidestreet from the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, and is open daily from dawn to dusk with free but limited parking.

    In the mid-1970s, a Stewardship Committee of local residents spearheaded the grassroots effort to acquire the site through donations and a low-interest loan from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), eventually dedicating “The Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve” on January 20, 1979. In 1994, TNC formally turned the parcel over to Lee County, and a year later, the Lee County School District donated an acre for the Preserve entrance as well as the site for the Estero Island Historical Society and its Davidson Cottage. The Lee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) contributed $550,000 in 1999 to construct the ADA-accessible boardwalk trail, with a Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program grant the remaining $100,000.

    A Passion For The Preserve

    “The idea for a 40th anniversary celebration came from Terry Cain,” Vicki related. “Terry is not only the MPP Land Stewardship Coordinator for Lee County Parks & Recreation, but also the Friends of MPP historian, so she has a passion for the Preserve like no one else! The Friends thought it a great concept and worked on it since last Fall, with a steering committee of Tree Andre, Mick Curtis, Gini Smith and myself to put everything into place.”

    An important component of the “40th Anniversary Celebration” is that the Friends of MPP will present Certificates of Appreciation in “Honor of The Founders” of the Preserve. “This will be a surprise to these folks, so I can’t tell you their names,” teased Vicki! “Without these key half-dozen or so people, we would not have Matanzas Pass Preserve today, as we came so close to losing it to development in the 1970s.”

    The 40th Anniversary Celebration, that is free and open to the public, begins at 10 a.m., with Sheena Brook entertaining at 11 a.m., then at Noon will be “Mangrove Walk & Talk to The Bay” and “Exploring Ethnobotany” guided nature walks. There will be several vendors selling jewelry, jelly, and honey, and a complementary brunch by Tuckaway Café. The Friends of MPP preserves, protects and enhances the Preserve through stewardship and educational events, Florida Master Naturalist classes, “Project Monarch,” the “Adopt a Tree” program and “Voices of The Past” historical recreations.

    Thank You & Get Involved!

    MPP offers three free seasonal nature walks. “Life in the Mangroves” is offered on Thursdays from 9:30 -11 a.m. through April. Discover the diverse plant & animal life in the preserve in this guided walk. “Exploring Ethnobotany” is Wednesdays through April 24 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Learn about plants used by the Calusa Indians for food and medicine. You do not need reservations; bring cameras and shoes that can get dirty, and as participants leave the boardwalk for a significant portion of the program, it is not ADA-accessible. Dress appropriately, as April mornings can still be cool. For information, call Lee County Parks & Recreation at 239-432-2154.

    “By The Light of The Moon” is each Full Moon Night through April, with the last program for this season on Friday, April 19. It is open to adults only and limited to 12 participants. The Friends of MPP hosts this free and experiential hands-on program to awaken and sharpen your senses of smell, touch, hearing, and night vision. Volunteers carry candle-lit lanterns as night descends and the moon rises. Reservations necessary one week in advance at It is not ADA-accessible; wear shoes to get dirty or wet and take photographs only when the moon rises. While free, the Friends appreciate donations.

    Beginning in May, the Friends of MPP will host a 5-event “Summer Speaker Series” at Tuckaway Café at 2301 Estero Boulevard. “So many island organizations have their programs during season to appeal to Snowbird and visitors,” explained Vicki, “but many of us live here year-round, so this will really appeal to our locals!”

    The Friends of MPP recently learned exciting news: The TDC will award the Preserve $1.1 million to replace the 1.25-mile ADA-accessible boardwalk that received heavy damage during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Construction will be in several phases, beginning this December, and will take roughly two years to complete.

    “The 40th Anniversary Celebration including brunch is free for several reasons,” Vicki concluded. “First, it is our way of saying ‘Thank You’ to the Fort Myers Beach community for helping us protect the Preserve, but equally as important, we hope to recruit more members and volunteers. If you are passionate about our environment, would like to lead our guided walks, can help on workdays to remove invasive species, or want to take on a leadership role in the Friends to care for this awesome property, join us and have fun all at the same time! I am the Membership Chair so if you cannot attend on April 6, contact me at 239-470-9715 or at If you love nature, join the Friends of MPP, take an active role, and get involved!”


    By Gary Mooney


    Caption: In 1979 the Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve was dedicated. Photo courtesy of the Estero Island Historic Society.