It's summertime. Now that Memorial Day weekend is in the books, one has many options to get into the sun and heat and explore the natural surroundings that probably caused you to move to the Southwest Florida area in the first place.
Here is a look at a couple of inexpensive options that will leave you tan, fit and breathing fresh air -a break from the air condition-to-air condition lifestyle.
- Paddling a portion of the Calusa Blueway Trail
Fresh air, saltwater and exercise are a combined good way to unclog those pesky sinuses and keep the doctor away. Then there is the dolphin, manatee and a variety of birds and other animals you may encounter.
Right in our backyards in the Back Bay is the first phase of the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail called the Estero Bay leg. It is along the Back Bay waters of Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach and begins within the Imperial River (where Marker 1 lies) and continues through a winding course some 50 miles to Marker 48 at Bunche Beach.
The Calusa Blueway, developed by Lee County Parks & Recreation and funded with tourist development tax dollars, is a 190-mile marked canoe and kayak trail that meanders through the coastal waters and inland tributaries of Lee County. It offers three distinct regions of the Gulf of Mexico coast: Estero Bay; Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass; and the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries.
The Beach's neighborhood route can be accessed at various locations, including put-in spots at New Pass Bridge (across from Dog Beach), Mound House, or Bowditch Point Park.
At the Dog Beach location, you will notice a #10 marker sign. If you paddle around the four-legged island and into the Lovers Key State Park interior, you will pass Marker #11 near a mangrove island and Marker #12 on a bridge at Lovers Key. Keep paddling under the bridge and to the north gate at Lovers Key at Big Carlos Pass. Marker #13 will be on the beach once you drag your katak or canoe across the sand.
At Mound House, you may need to explore a bit to find any marker. Paddle north along the mangrove island until you reach a clearing into Hurricane Bay (Snook Bight Marina is directly across clearing). Once in the bay, you will see paddling markers along the boat channels or up against the mainland.
At Bowditch Point, drop your paddle craft into the designated area along the bay side and head towards the northern tip of San Carlos Island. That's where you see Marker #45. Paddle along the mainland until you reach Bunche Beach. Just a little further beyond, you will see Marker #48, the final marker for the Estero Bay leg.
Due to the summer heat and vast territory to cover (and unless you have the drive of a Calusa Indian), it is recommended to break the trip into different stages to enjoy the adventure. Recommendations include leaving earlier in the morning because of the intense sun and warmth; sunscreen because of that exposure; packing a GPS device in a dry bag for orienteering; and paddling at a preferably higher tide so as not to paddle against the incoming tide.
Go to www.GreatCalusaBlueway.com for more information on the entire paddling trail.
- Biking Black Island at Lovers Key
The sport of bicycling can be a fun time if you choose your route well. Many people have enjoyed biking on the beachfront, but you need a good low tide to be able to enjoy the ride without running into too many people or other obstacles in your path.
Two lesser-known bicycle trails are shared hiking paths on a nature trail within Lovers Key State Park. The trails are tucked away in the mangroves and indigenous trees of Black Island between the north gate entrance near Big Carlos Pass and the south (main) gate entrance near New Pass. They trails are both roughly 2.5 miles long. One path is unnamed and not fully cleared, while the other is a maritime hammock path called Black Island Trail.
Built in 2000, Black Island Trail is accessible by the trailhead at the main entrance's lot #2 or by an unmarked path three quarters of a mile from the north entrance's pay station. The bike ride loop from the trailhead and back takes roughly 20 minutes at a casual pace.
The trail features native plants and animals, sheltered benches and bordering saltwater canals with launch spots for paddle craft. Information kiosks at the trailhead highlight the live vegetation and creatures such as the Spangler fig, sea grape trees, Spanish moss, prickly pear cactus, sable palm, bottlenose dolphin, manatee, osprey, blue herons and gumbo limbo trees.
The surface of the trail varies from gravel-like, hard-packed sand to cut grass to softer sand. Take caution for exposed tree roots along the path.
Upon entering the main entrance on bicycles and paying the $2-per-bike fee at the ranger station, make your way past parking lots #1 (main parking area) and #3 (parking for the picnic area or excess parking for beach access) and find the trail head sign behind lot #2. Roughly 200 yards into the trail is a trail map with a layout of the island. A nearby butterfly garden showcases various plants which attracts several species of butterflies.
The trail traverses either to the left through the butterfly garden and onto a service road or to the right past the bulletin board until it nearly reaches a section of an inner waterway ideal for fishing or launching a canoe/kayak. There, it broadens into a two-way path where a trail sign directs you south bordering the canal on the east.
After a minute or two of biking, the route takes a solid right at marker #4 and the trail becomes a one-way loop. The loop opens to a clearing, which has a trail shelter overlooking another canal to the west before ascending nearly 150 yards. This sudden incline is known as "the Hill" and its descent leads to marker #5 and the first of two shortcuts that, if chosen, shortens the journey to one mile.
A light rain can heighten the aromatic scent of native foliage while various butterflies and snowy egrets seek shelter. It is not uncommon to witness gopher tortoises, marsh rabbits, green iguanas, manatees and black racer snakes along the path. The alligator, loggerhead sea turtle, box turtle, mangrove water snake, eastern coral snake, squirrel tree frog, cuban tree frog and India pacific gecko are some of the reptiles and amphibians that also can be seen on or off trail.
After an undulating course through the trees, the trail cuts back toward the first inner waterway where a second shortcut and the one-mile mark are designated. This shortcut, if chosen, turns to the left at marker #6 and would shorten the trip to 1.8 miles.
The main loop continues north and up a slight incline to the tip of the island at marker #7, which is the midway point of the full trip. Along the way, a view of Little Carlos Pass and the bridge that stretches over it can be seen through the "gates," -a paddle craft opening in the mangroves which leads out to the Back Bay (note: combustion engine boats are not permitted in the inner waterways).
After the midway point, the trail turns southward with a view of the second inner waterway before a easterly 90-degree turn followed by a south easterly 45-degree turn keeps the average biker honest.
The navigation then becomes easier through the fairway-like grassy section of the trail. The view is still spectacular and two small islands can be seen in one of the inner waterways along the way.
The mile 2 sign and trail head sign are within view and, soon after, the trail comes to a "T" where another posted arrow sign directs you to turn right and back onto the two-way section. From there, back track to the butterfly garden by taking a left at the specified sign or continue straight ahead to the service road. This road, if a right is taken, is a half-mile to the Big Carlos parking area or, if a left is chosen, is a third of a mile to the main parking area/beach access.