For those of us who live on Fort Myers Beach year-round or our off-season guests, The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve (MPP) has a treat in store! “So many island organizations host their programs during season, to appeal to snowbirds and our large number of visitors,” explained Vicki Little, Friends of MPP Membership Chair, “but for fulltime residents, there are very few organized activities we can enjoy off season, so we are rectifying that. Beginning on Tuesday, May 14, the Friends of MPP will offer a 6-event ‘Summer Story & Speaker Series’ at Tuckaway Café at 2301 Estero Boulevard.”
Speakers will tell tales and address topics relevant to the Fort Myers Beach community, continued Vicki, “that will be fun, educational and engaging, focusing on our environment, targeted toward our year-round citizens and off-season guests, in a relaxing atmosphere and all for free! The Series will be offered the second Tuesday of each month, from May through October, so the dates are May 14, June 11, July 9, August 13, September 10 and October 8. We begin at 6 p.m. for a few minutes of social fellowship and to allow you to purchase food or drinks from Tuckaway, with the speakers from 6:15 until roughly 7 p.m.”
Mick Curtis, who is the volunteer walk leader for the “Exploring Ethnobotany” program in MPP each Wednesday morning during season, is the first speaker, presenting “Ethnobotany: The Relationship Between People & Plants.” He will discuss how people use plants for food, medicine and clothing, as well as how societies manage and perceive plants. Curtis, with a Botanical degree from Duke University who teaches the Florida Master Naturalist Program, combines a down-to-earth conversational style with a subtle sense of humor.
The Friends of MPP has discussed hosting a Speaker Series for several years, Vicki reported, “but most of our members just never had the time to make it happen, as we are as busy in season as everyone else! Our new President, Gini Smith, and a long-time member, Jim Rodwell, suggested we host it in the off-season, for those here year-round who not only want quality events but actually have time to enjoy them! Finally, Gini just decided we would go ahead and everyone jumped on board! In addition to speakers who will concentrate on the Fort Myers Beach environment, like how water quality affects us all, other programs will feature topics like ‘Stories of the Island’ and ‘As Time Goes By.’”
While the Friends of MPP has identified its Series dates and most program topics, they have yet to finalize the roster of speakers and who will present what program on which date! “The only one for sure right now is Mick Curtis on May 14,” said Vicki. “We hope to announce the remainder of the Series that evening or shortly thereafter.”
Matanzas Pass Preserve
In the mid-1970s, a Stewardship Committee of local residents spearheaded the grassroots effort to acquire the Preserve 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.
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 mangrove forest full of raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, heron, 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. 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.
There are three free seasonal nature walks in the preserve from late fall through early spring, Exploring Ethnobotany and Life in the Mangroves provided in cooperation with Lee County Parks & Recreation; and By the Light of the Moon provided by the Friends of MPP.
The Friends of MPP recently learned that the TDC awarded the Preserve $1.1 million to replace the boardwalk that received heavy damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Construction will be in several phases, beginning this December, and will take roughly two years to complete. MPP is at 199 Bay Road, down the side street from the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, and is open daily from dawn to dusk with free but limited parking.
“MPP is crucial to the Beach community,” stressed Vicki. “It is a refuge for our local wildlife, important to our water flow, and the last 60-acre remnant of what all of Fort Myers Beach was like umpteen years ago. In the hustle-&-bustle of our daily lives, it is truly a natural oasis!”
The Friends of MPP is always recruiting new members and volunteers, Vicki stated. “If you are passionate about our environment, want 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 contact me at 239-470-9715 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
By Gary Mooney