Take A Step Back in Time: Matanzas Pass Preserve’s Visions of the Past

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Far removed from the tropical playground it is today, our island has a long and storied past – from the Calusa Indians who called it home back in the 15th century, through the Spanish invaders, pirates, Koreshan settlers and early homesteaders, Estero Island has played host to many colorful characters over the years. But how to tell the story of our long history without involving hours of class time or long, boring lectures?

The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve found the perfect solution a few years ago when they began holding their ‘ Visions of the Past ‘ events. Simply put, on one day of the year (this year it will be Saturday, February 27th) groups of people are guided through the Preserve on a time-machine style tour that offers them glimpses into snippets of history.

From 9am to 1pm, people will arrive at a staging area set up in the parking lot of the Historic Cottage on Bay Rd. Vendors and food (including Vice-Mayor Dan Andre’s now-legendary jerk chicken sandwiches) will be available as groups wait to be escorted on the tour, where they will encounter locals in the roles of the different types of ‘islanders’ who lived here over the centuries.

“Many of our storytellers are new this year, so be prepared for new adventures,” said Friends’ Dorothy Rodwell. “Also, we have a number of great vendors this year, so even if someone doesn’t want to go on a walk they should still come. For instance, those who would like to know more about how to landscape with native plants can come talk to the folks from the Native Plant Society. This is a great time to ask all of your native plant questions of the experts who will be attending this event.”

In addition to Andre’s mouth-watering chicken, Naturalist Dick Workman will be teaching people how to weave a palm frond basket; Master Gardner and Naturalist Marty Kendall will be displaying and selling her book – ‘The Plant World of the Calusa: A View From Pineland’; the Florida Native Plant Society will be selling native plants and the Historic Cottage will be open for tours.

The tour will feature six stations, each representing a different period in island history. The guides will walk the groups to each station introducing the characters they are about to encounter, and then they will spend between three and five minutes at each spot. Some stations will have skits, some will have demonstrations and all will be informative and fun.

Long time islander A. J. Bassett and Jack Underhill will be representing the island’s pioneers, portraying old-timers reminiscing about the past as they tell stories from 1921 to the 1940’s. Another station will feature Jim Rodwell and Miffie Greer as early homesteaders (mid 1800’s), who will show people the hardships of life before mosquito control and air conditioning.

In the pavilion overlooking the back bay, Carmine Pachinno and Dan Shamp will portray two of the many pirates that once used the back bay waters to hide from Spanish galleons. It is rumored that some of them even hid treasure on the islands that make up Lovers Key – arrr!

Catch a glimpse into the lives of the Koreshans -a religious group that settled on the island in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as Mary Ann Wesley, Alan and Carla Mandel portray the Koreshan’s.

The original islanders – the Calusa Indians – complete with artifacts and examples of how these hardy folk found innovative ways to make the most out of the resources they found here, will be represented by Donna Rizzo, Jeanie Thompson, Chloe Stam and guests.

Tom and Carolyn Crosby, Glen Upton – Rose Garcia and her mom, Faye, will be dressed as the Spanish explorers who ‘discovered’ southwest Florida in the 1500’s. They will interact with the tour groups and even speak a little Spanish.

Tours will leave every 20 minutes, and reservations are highly recommended as this event gets more popular every year. Guides for the day will be Lee County Parks & Recreation Beach Park volunteers Terry Cain, Pat Feinstein, Mick Curtis, Tree Andre, Gini Smith, Mike Leising, Roger Johnson.

The tour is free, and is designed to be family-friendly and Islanders are encouraged to bring their kids. To reserve a spot, email Lee County Parks and Recreation’s Andrew Payne at APayne@leegov.com or call 230-432-2154. All reservations will be confirmed via reply email, and folks are encouraged to arrive 10 minutes early and expect to spend between 80 and 90 minutes on the tour. Since parking is limited, carpooling is encouraged. This event is sponsored by the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve, Red Coconut RV Resort, Estero Island Historic Society, Good Time Charters, Mango Street Inn, Skye’s Restaurant, the Cocoloba Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and Lee County Parks and Recreation.

Keri Hendry Weeg