The seventh annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival, one of the Southeast Tourism Society's Top 20 Events for 2012, will take place at locations in Lee County beginning tomorrow (Thursday, Nov. 1) and continuing through Sunday.
The annual canoe and kayak festival this year will again have its main hub at the Sanibel Causeway and will offers events and attractions for kayakers of all levels: avid paddlers looking to network with enthusiasts, occasional kayakers who want to learn more, local residents looking to try out a kayak or SUP for the first time, and parents and kids interested in paddling together in a family-friendly race.
The festival is sponsored by Fort Myers Toyota and CROW and hosted by Lee County Parks & Recreation. The event will feature paddling equipment demos, speakers, on-water demonstrations, children's activities, a photo contest, fishing tournament, film festival, relay race, live music, hearty local restaurant fare and more. A complete program of scheduled events is available online at www.CalusaBluewayPaddlingFestival.com.
Event organizers aim to make it easier and more convenient for Southwest Floridians to participate, with one location for evening events and a second location for daytime activities. Nightly events begin at 6 p.m. Nov. 1-3 at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel, 20371 Summerlin Road in Fort Myers. Daytime festivities span from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 2-3 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 4 on Island A along the Sanibel Causeway.
Admission options make it easier to attend this year too: a daytime, single-admission rate of $5 per person (kids under 12 are free); one rate for single admission to one of three evening events ($15); or a $75 four-day, all-inclusive pass complete with lagniappes.
Proceeds benefit CROW (the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) and the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, the 190-mile trail along Lee County waters featuring mangrove forests, more than 300 species of birds and sugar-sand beaches.
For the evening events, parking is free at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel. For the daytime events on Sanibel Causeway Island A, festival-goers have two options. This year, people can drive to the causeway and park for free; the $6 toll to enter the causeway is not waived. Or, attendees can park for free at Tanger Factory Outlets and take a complimentary trolley to and from the causeway. The trolley will run 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 2-3 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 4.
Back for the second year is the popular Canoe & Kayak Film Festival, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers-Sanibel at a cost of $15 per person. Publisher Jim Marsh and his crew will present short films and a few longer ones, taking participants on virtual paddles to exciting places. Food and drinks will be provided courtesy of Fort Myers Toyota.
The festival's grand prize for its annual raffle is presented by O-Sea-D Aquatic Adventures: an Ascente touring kayak valued at more than $3,000. The winning ticket will be drawn at the CROW evening reception Nov. 3. Another sponsor, Estero River Outfitters, will give away a Hobie fishing kayak to the grand-prize winner of the Nov. 3 Calusa Blueway Fishing Tournament at Matlacha Park on Pine Island.
New this year is a relay race for stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes that will begin at noon on Nov. 4 on Sanibel Causeway Island A. Entry is $5 for the race that will include one, two or three team members. Following this race, festival-goers can watch the start of the first-ever Coast to Coast Expedition Challenge, a 240-mile self-sustained human-powered race featuring small non-motorized sailboats and paddlecraft. Racers will take off from the Sanibel Causeway and complete the race seven days later in Miami.
Also during the festival, Lee County Parks & Recreation will launch the new Calusa Blueway smart phone app, which now includes all 190 miles of the trail in both Android and iPhone versions.
--information provided by Betsy Clayton