A Three-Hour Tour!
Mention a 3-hour boat tour and generations instantly flash upon the fateful trip of Gilligan & the Skipper, Ginger & Mary Ann, Thurston & Lovey, The Professor & The Minnow! When the historic Mound House and the Estero Bay Express II pontoon boat join forces, however, they make their 3-hour tour to the Mound House and Mound Key a fun, educational, and memorably-positive experience!
As our group of 15 on the “Boat Tour to Mound Key” cruised out of Fish-Tale Marina on Wednesday afternoon, October 4, onboard the 40-foot Sunsetter boat expertly operated by Captain Justin and ably assisted by Captain Robert, Mound House education coordinator Penny Jarrett related the history of the Calusa Indians, the first inhabitants of what would become Fort Myers Beach over 2,000 years ago.
“’Calusa’ in Spanish mean ‘fierce’ because they were intense warriors. They eventually intermarried with Cubans or were taken as slaves and today are extinct. They were, however, the dominant tribe from Charlotte Harbor to Marco Island, and since two of their most important communities were on the mound of the Mound House and at Mound Key, these have a great deal of parallel history. Both are on manmade mounds composed primarily of seashells, with the Mound House 14 feet above sea level, and Mound Key 31 feet, the highest elevation in Lee County.”
While listening to Calusa history, we look for wildlife, as Captain Justin explained, “There is a good chance we may experience dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles and manatees.” As if on cue, roughly 15 bottlenose dolphins surround the boat, to the joy of all onboard! Dolphins would be our constant companions, especially when Captain Justin opened it up a little, with a half-dozen leaping in and out of the water while playing in our wake.
“The Estero Bay and Gulf of Mexico are havens for wildlife,” Penny related, “with over 300 fish, 200 birds and 50 mammals.” We witness pelicans, herons, egrets and cormorants, along with tens of thousands of red, black and white mangrove trees that dominate the estuary islands, where the brackish water from the Caloosahatchee River meets the salt water of The Gulf of Mexico.
Calm Seas & Navy Men
Despite wind that produced a chop, it was a beautiful day on the water, with mostly-clear skies. The tour even had an interactive aspect, when we were in the non-wake zones and wave water splashed all over us. Captain Robert reminded all that “calm seas never made a Navy man!”
When we arrived at the Mound House, we toured its underground exhibit that shows how the Calusa constructed the mound, before enjoying a presentation by Education Coordinator Dexter Norris on Calusa tools and weapons. Unfortunately, we had to cut our Mound Key tour short, due to numerous downed trees from Hurricane Irma that made its only trail impassable.
Despite this, the “Boat Tour to Mound Key” is a great mix of water, nature, local history, tourism, fun and education. To maximize your enjoyment, bring sunblock, water, sunglasses, camera and bug spray, as well as clothes that can get wet and old shoes that can get wet and muddy on Mound Key. There is a restroom on the boat and at the Mound House, with a cooler onboard for your beverages, but no food service.
“Boat Tours to Mound Key” continue through April 2018, with all trips departing from Fish-Tale Marina in Santini Marina Plaza at 7225 Estero Boulevard. The trip fee is $55-per-person, or $50 for members, and includes Mound House admission. Reserve your spot in advance at 239-765-0865, with cruises available the following dates & times: Sunday, October 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.; Friday, November 3, from 12:30 to 3:45 p.m.; Monday, November 13, from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m.; Tuesday, January 30, from 1:30 to 4:45 p.m.; Tuesday, February 13, from 12:30 to 3:45 p.m.; Tuesday, February 27, from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday, March 13, from 12:15 to 3:30 p.m.; Wednesday, March 28, from Noon to 3:15 p.m.; & Tuesday, April 3, from 2 to 5:30 p.m.
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 the community’s cultural and environmental learning center. Sitting atop a 2,000-year-old shell mound, it offers over 50 programs in October, including nine new ones. Mound House admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free, with Town residents receiving a 50% discount. It is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street, with additional parking at 216 Connecticut. For information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.