Once a month or so, The Island Sand Paper asks a community leader “6 Questions.” This edition features Terry Cain of Lee County Department of Parks & Recreation and Matanzas Pass Preserve. Terry has been the Land Stewardship Coordinator for Lee County Parks & Recreation for 13 years. For information on the Matanzas Pass Preserve or to contact Terry, call 239-707-3015 or email email@example.com.
Q1: How did you become involved with the preservation and management of the Matanzas Pass Preserve?
It was through a friend of mine, Helen Caldwell, who was a lady who lived here on Fort Myers Beach, and before I ever worked for the Lee County Department of Parks & Recreation. She asked me to become involved with the Beach Elementary School with their science projects, and that led to my involvement in a round-about way, so she brought me in. I think we walked the preserve property at the end of 1974 or 1975 and I just thought it was so pretty and that was my first introduction to it. It could be muddy and nasty in those days, but it was spectacular and we always had such a good time there. Of course, I never imagined back then that this beautiful little preserve would play such a major role in my life!
Q2: Why is the Matanzas Pass Preserve so important to Fort Myers Beach?
It is one of the last open spaces left on a very overdeveloped barrier island, so there is not a lot of natural area left here for our residents and visitors to enjoy, so without it, there would be little of Old Florida left to teach our children and educate our guests. It is amazing that, as we built out the island, we were able to preserve this wedge of maritime Oak hammock, transitional wetland and mangrove forest all along the back bay, to save not only the natural characteristics but the diversity of wildlife. What I think is cool is that the vast majority of Matanzas Pass Preserve came into being not with government funds or tax dollars, but by a true grass roots movement in the 1970s that morphed into today’s Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve group, who remain so active through today.
Q3: With your vast experience on Fort Myers Beach, what environmental changes do you see in its residents and visitors?
I have seen a lot of positive changes over the years, and when you think about it, most people would agree that there are many beneficial programs that came into being over the years, like recycling, and there seems to be less litter in the preserve, with far fewer cigarette butts than we would see. People are more knowledgeable about the environment today, and favor the preservation of natural areas, not only for the plants and critters but for themselves, so they have a place where they can go to unwind and decrease their stress from life, and find some peace; where you can just let go and walk and breath deep and feel at one with nature.
Q4: What is the most pressing environmental issue facing Southwest Florida today?
Water, without a doubt, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon, simply because clean water is not only essential to our day-to-day lives, but to our very health and existence. Clean water quality is the basis of our economy and health and our future, especially since we live on a barrier island surrounded by it. We need it to preserve our natural areas, as well as to drink, and enjoy through fishing and swimming and a whole host of environmental and recreational activities.
I know there seems to be a recent series of environmental water issues that can help our situation, like Florida Senate Bill 10 to channel Lake Okeechobee water south into the Everglades, and the C-43 Reservoir that will help the Caloosahatchee River, especially in dry years, but I have been listening to this talk for a long time, so I guess I will have to see these enhancements before I will believe in them. I always remain upbeat and encouraged, with the hope that something will come to fruition, as there are a lot of knowledgeable people working on this, but I have been waiting a long time to see some of these things happen, and listening about these improvements for around here for decades now, but we need action and hopefully that is coming soon. As I say, I have hope but I will believe it when I finally see it!
Q5: What is your favorite spot or spots on Fort Myers Beach to get away from it all?
Well, certainly one is at the Matanzas Pass Preserve. There are little areas, way in the back, that are so very quiet for most of the year that you have no idea there is a major roadway like Estero Boulevard that is so close, yet you never hear it. Anyplace around or adjacent to Bowditch Point Park at the north end of Estero Island is a good walk and one of my favorite spots, and of course the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area near the south end of the island is really nice, and I quite enjoy it when I walk down there. Truth be told, there is really no bad walk along the beach.
Q6: What is the greatest thing about Matanzas Pass Preserve?
Ohhh! One of its greatest features and I think the one that fascinates me the most is that we still have a maritime Oak hammock on this island, so for me that is it. I love to be able to show people what the island actually looked like eons ago on the bay side, as it is so different from the beach, and it is great that we can do this on Fort Myers Beach, and that we continue to maintain this parcel as a preserve. That is very important, to take people not only into our native environment but back in time, to what this island most probably looked like when the first peoples settled here.
By first peoples, I mean those who came here before the Calusa Indians, like the Paleo Indians, because that is so cool that we can go back to our very beginnings. Matanzas Pass Preserve was at one time most likely part of the original property that is now owned by the Town at the Mound House, with mounds all over the island, so we know there was a civilization who respected the environment out here all those years ago.
The other special element of Matanzas Pass Preserve has nothing to do with its natural characteristics, but the human heart beat behind it — the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve. They go all the way back to its preservation in the mid-1970s, by saving the land from development with a true grass roots effort, and they remain just as committed today, by planning and hosting a wide variety of programs and nature walks and historic events and work days every other weekend. Without the Friends, there would be no Matanzas Pass Preserve!