The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve hosted the second program in its six-part “Summer Story & Speaker Series” on Tuesday evening, June 11, when Jason Boeckman presented “Conservation in Your Community: Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 Program,” before roughly 20 people at Tuckaway Café at 2301 Estero Boulevard. Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 Program provides residents and visitors access to nearly 30,000 acres of nature preserves to enjoy hiking trails, wildlife observation and outdoor activities, while protecting our water quality, wildlife habitat and green space for public recreation.
“Like the ‘Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve,” Conservation 20/20 was a grassroots citizen’s movement,” said Jason. “By the mid-1990s, many people realized Lee County was developing fast, with natural areas and wildlife disappearing, so they did a census of Florida’s 66 other counties, discovering they preserved roughly 20% of their land, with Lee County just under 10%, so they organized the referendum to use taxpayer dollars to preserve our land. It passed easily and 20 years later, we attained that 20% goal!”
In 2016, Lee County Commissioners put the Conservation 20/20 Program on the ballot again to gauge resident support. “Nationally that year, there were over 100 environmental initiatives,” Jason reported. “The Conservation 20/20 victory tied for the nation’s largest win, showing how Lee County appreciates its environment.”
Jason announced that Lee County acquired its second largest parcel, the 3,900-acre Edison Farms, in 2017. “If you do not yet know, Lee County Commissioners recently announced it now will have a new name – ‘The Larry Kiker Preserve!’” Commissioner Kiker passed away from cancer in April 2019. Prior to being a Lee County Commissioner, he served as Fort Myers Beach Mayor and Council Member.
Over its 23 years, Conservation 20/20 made 132 land acquisitions to form 47 nature preserves. “We are just 50 acres shy of 30,000 total acres,” smiled Jason, “so I will be thrilled when we reach that milestone! I always end on this message: these lands belong to you, so enjoy them!”
Goodbye & Hello
Before introducing Jason, Matanzas Pass Preserve Friends President Gini Smith stated, “Tonight is bitter-sweet, as tomorrow, June 12, is the last day on the job for Terry Cain as our Lee County Land Stewardship Coordinator for Fort Myers Beach, as she is retiring! Terry, you are a special lady!” After a warm round of grateful applause, Terry, a long-time Fort Myers Beach resident and former Council member, stated, “I may be retiring but I am not leaving the beach, so look for me out on the Preserve trails!”
Terry then introduced her replacement, Rick Bauer. “I am originally from Maryland, just received my Master’s degree from The University of Georgia, and I am brand-new to Southwest Florida,” said Rick. “I have an open door policy so please voice any comments, ideas or concerns directly to me, as I am very excited about this opportunity. Terry, over the past three weeks, has been catching me up on the past 15 years, but we still have 13 years to go, with only tomorrow left!”
The free Summer Story & Speaker Series continues the second Tuesday of each month through October. Evenings begin at 5:30 p.m. with social fellowship and a chance to purchase food or drinks from Tuckaway if desired, with the speaker beginning at 6 p.m. Remaining dates are July 9, August 13, September 10 and October 8. Gini announced that “Jim Rodwell, or as many of us call him, ‘Mr. Matanzas Pass Preserve,’ will address the ‘Project Monarch’ butterfly program on July 9, with Nancy MacPhee of the Lee County Tourism Development Council presenting ‘Ecotourism’ on August 13.”
In the mid-1970s, a Stewardship Committee of local residents spearheaded the grassroots effort to acquire the 60-acre Matanzas Pass Preserve through donations and a low-interest loan from The Nature Conservancy, eventually dedicating “The Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve” on January 20, 1979. The Preserve is at 199 Bay Road, just down the sidestreet from the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, and open daily from dawn to dusk with free but limited parking. For information on the speaker series or Matanzas Pass Preserve, contact Public Relations & Membership Chair Vicki Little at 239-470-9715 or email@example.com.
By Gary Mooney