“Lee County updates all of its park plans every ten years,” explained Sherry Furnari, senior supervisor of Land Stewardship. “We are getting ready to do our third version for Matanzas Pass Preserve. It will recap our accomplishments over the past decade, and what we hope for over the next ten years.” The public can provide input in a variety of methods, including a public meeting at the Red Coconut RV Park clubhouse on Tuesday, July 18, at 4:30 p.m.
Matanzas Pass Preserve is a 60-acre site at 199 Bay Road that is one of the few undeveloped, protected areas on Estero Island, made up of maritime hammock, tidal swamp, Black mangrove forest and coastal grassland, with a diversity of wildlife including raccoons, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, heron, fish and songbirds. It is home to several amenities, such as a 1.25-mile trail system, educational programs, two historic cottages near its front entrance operated by the Estero Island Historic Society, and a strong Friends group that has been active since its initial 1974 acquisition.
Sherry reviewed changes and improvements to Matanzas Pass Preserve over the previous ten-year plan: “A big part was to maintain the natural exotic plants, while removing invasive species. There has been a lot of backbreaking, physical work, as we do not do controlled burns there. These efforts are the fruits of everyone, from volunteers to the Friends group to students from Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Georgia, among other places, so it is a community effort. This gives especially the students a lot of exposure with environmental work as well as the all-around experience, from picking up trash to improving fencing to conducting gopher tortoise surveys, so there is a myriad of different activities. Our preserve is unique, as no two are alike.”
No Dogs, Bicycles, or Vagrants
With this comes human incursion issues, she says. “We basically try to educate people, especially the neighbors, about throwing debris over the boundary, as this does not help us. We have a hard time keeping vagrants out, as you do not want to walk through the mangroves and see people set up or asleep. We do not allow dogs or bicycles, as those are too dangerous and not in keeping with the area. There is free parking, however, with a kayak launch and a fish house.”
The Lee County employee most responsible for the success of the Matanzas Pass Preserve is Terry Cain, and Sherry could not be more complimentary of her colleague: “Terry does a phenomenal job, and works closely with the neighbors, to maintain a nice, quiet preserve where people can come for a hike and not deal with dogs and worry about getting hit by a bike. She watches over the plants that provide seasonal changes, flowering stages, and a lot of shade, making it a wonderful place to stay cool out of the hot sun. She coordinates programs to educate folks about the preserve, so there is always a lot to do. Terry has a very unique relationship with Matanzas Pass Preserve, as she has been the coordinator there for the past 13 years, and of course she is a Fort Myers Beach resident herself.”
When considering what the next 10-year-plan for Matanzas Pass Preserve will feature, Sherry believes the emphasis remains on “keeping it as a natural resource that neighbors have in their own backyard, for a unique and relaxing environment right down Estero Boulevard. The preserve should be a natural area that is not overcrowded, and does not take away any of the land from wildlife. We have to be careful that we do not love Matanzas Pass Preserve to death, not only for people, but as a location for the food and protection of animals, to keep it as a good place to bring up their young.”
A Refuge For People & Wildlife
Her hope is that the public will want to “continue to maintain it as is, as a small piece of island wilderness. Fort Myers Beach has Bowditch Point Park at the north end, Lynn Hall Park at Times Square, beach access points, and the Mound House to learn about archeology, but Matanzas Pass Preserve is different from all those, as a 60-acre refuge for people and wildlife, and we don’t want that to change.”
When asked what would happen if patrons were to suggest items such as tennis courts or baseball fields, Sherry chortled and half-shouted: “Oh, My – Absolutely Not! That is not in our draft, and I do not foresee any park-like facilities there, especially since the beach already has that right down the road with the Bay Oaks Recreation Center. We will stay the course and maintain it as a natural area as well as a wildlife refuge.”
At the July 18 meeting, Terry will make a PowerPoint presentation on the draft plan, will review its history, and how the acquisition of its different parcels came about over the years, to show how Matanzas Pass Preserve got where it is today, what work has been done, and what needs to happen in the future. “The draft is on our webpage for people to review,” Sherry explains, “as well as on display at the Fort Myers Beach Public Library Reference Desk, with comment cards and Terry’s email address, to submit suggestions, or you can do so at the meeting, as we want to get as much input as possible. Once we have our information, we will present that to the Lee Board of County Commissioners, most likely in August, as they have the final determination.”
To submit ideas, go to firstname.lastname@example.org. “It is wonderful there is such an interest in Matanzas Pass Preserve by the local community,” marvels Sherry. “We hope Fort Myers Beach residents want to maintain this preserve in its natural state, as a little gem on Estero Island, and are willing to fight to keep it that way!”