Mound House Kayak Ecotours

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Paddling Through Paradise!

Whether a vacationer, seasonal, or resident, we are all on Fort Myers Beach to recreate on the water while enjoying our warm sun and beautiful blue skies. About the only things that could improve that formula is a healthy dose of exercise while increasing your knowledge of our local history and environment.

Well, welcome to the Mound House kayak ecotours! Explore the winding mangrove creeks and hidden backwaters of the Estero Bay as you can only on a kayak. Dexter Norris, biologist, naturalist, and environmental educator for the Mound House, leads the dynamic programs.

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The Mound House sits atop a 13-foot-high shell mound.

Experience the natural beauty of the ancient realm of the Calusa Indians as you search for birds, fish, manatee and dolphins while paddling through the Estero and Hell Peckney Bays in a tandem kayak. The Mound House conducts its programs in accordance with the Florida Society of Ethical Ecotourism guidelines.

I arrived at the Mound House overflow parking lot at 216 Connecticut Street on a recent Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., where Dexter picked up our small group in the Mound House open-air trolley car, dropping us at the museum to do some quick paperwork before we proceeded to the kayak launch. Of my fellow participants, Bob and Peg were experienced kayakers so they took their own tandem kayak. Linda, on the other hand, had not been in one for several years, so she rode with volunteer Bill Veach, who provided their direction from his rear seat.

I Have Yet To Lose Anyone

Disembarking at Dog Key.

As for me, I volunteered up-front to Dexter in advance registration I had never been in a kayak throughout my long, misspent life! He assured me “I have yet to lose anyone,” but to be safe, he got saddled with me! In a case of upper-body Marine cadence, all I had to do was sit and paddle “left-right-left-right” and we proceeded safe and without incident; of course, it helped my confidence that rarely were we ever in water deeper than a few feet, and usually so shallow you could see the bottom through the clear back bay.

Dexter explained we were on the estuary, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the fresh water from the Caloosahatchee River: “The estuary changes all the time; in the dry season, like now, it is salty; during the summer, when we have thunderstorms every day, it is more fresh water.” Wildlife abounded, with Dexter telling us to “call out if you see something; six sets of eyes are better than one,” before identifying Yellow-crowned Night, Tri-colored, and Little Blue Herons, saying “you never know what you will find on our ecotours, as each one is different; on our last one we came across a manatee and a pod of dolphins.”

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Dexter (r) shows us the shell mound on Dog Key

Before paddling out of sight of the iconic Mound House, the oldest building on Fort Myers Beach, Dexter had us stop and look at it from the distance, where you could easily see it is on the highest land elevation on the beach: “The rest of the island is about 4 feet over sea level, but the Calusa Indians, our area’s first inhabitants, built up the site with sea shells to 13 feet. These are not burial mounds, like other Indian tribes, but elevation to protect their village from hurricanes and storm surge, and to take advantage of the cooling breeze.”

Roughly two-thirds through the 3.5-mile route, we disembark at Dog Key that served as another Calusa village and well as a settlement for the Koreshan Unity, a quasi-religious group of roughly 250 members that settled parts of Estero Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Smart, Funny, & Charming

Birds feed in the shallow water, with the islands covered in mangroves.

On our return leg, we took advantage of the current at our backs and mostly floated, with Dexter pointing out White ibis, Brown pelicans, Anhinga, Osprey, Turkey vultures, and the Belted kingfisher. Between the gorgeous 70-degrees, crystal-clear skies, clean water, nature, wildlife and history, this is the perfect morning in Paradise! Dexter is equal parts Smart, Funny, and Charming, with Bill chiming in with great stuff throughout the morning.

Kayak tours are Wednesdays and Saturdays, weather permitting, through the end of April from 9 a.m. to Noon; with the decision on additional tours yet to be made. Cost is $45 per person, or $15 if you are a Mound House member, and includes all paddling equipment and Mound House admission. Kayakers must be 12 years of age or older, be able to swim, walk over slopped rough terrain, embark and disembark from a tandem kayak, and paddle up to 3 hours. There is a maximum of 12 participants per tour, with a parent or guardian accompanying all children.

Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellent; if you forget, all are available for purchase at the Museum Store. Sunglasses to protect you from the water and sun’s glare are essential. Wear water or covered shoes; no flip-flops or sandals, as you absolutely will get wet muddy feet – and love it! Bring dry clothing for after the trip, with changing facilities on-site. Leave behind anything that may get wet, like cell phones, or store your belongings in water-proof plastic.

Ecotour reservations are necessary by the afternoon in advance at 239-785-0865, and the Mound House reserves the right to postpone trips with three registrants or less; for information see www.moundhouse.org.

The Mound House, Estero Island’s oldest standing structure now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and restored to its 1921 grandeur, is at 451 Connecticut Street, with admission $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. Fort Myers Beach residents receive a 50% discount, and access to the dog-friendly grounds is free. It is open January through April Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from May through December on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Paddle your way through Paradise on a Mound House kayak ecotour!

 

Gary Mooney