The only maritime oak community left on Fort Myers Beach is undergoing a temporary construction phase that will enable individuals with certain disabilities fully witness palm and pine trees, maritime oaks with Spanish moss, mangroves and bush daisies on their way to a view of the Back Bay.
Matanzas Pass Preserve - a popular walking and nature-watching location on Fort Myers Beach - will be closed Jan. 15 through Feb. 4 for a recycled boardwalk-expansion project.
The project is the final phase in completing a boardwalk path from the preserve entrance to an overlook pavilion that is directly across from Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. This will allow those requiring ADA accessibility to experience the width of the preserve with a manageable route.
Lee County staff members begin work on the final stage of a boardwalk extension at Matanzas Pass Preserve that will allow ADA accessibility from the entrance to the pavilion overlook of the Back Bay.
Staff members of Lee County Construction & Design Department are methodically working on the final link of the addition by staying within the perimeter of the designed work area.
"This is an involved project because we do not take heavy equipment into the preserve," said Beach resident Terry Cain, the land steward of Matanzas Pass Preserve for Lee County. "They cannot back up trucks to where they are working. They could probably take a two-man auger that could help them a whole lot, but they are being very respectful and conscientious of the vegetation that will be around the boardwalk. It's impressive to me that they are staying inside the boardwalk line."
Roughly 24 feet of wood path will join up the two existing boardwalks. Shoveling, leveling and keeping with ADA requirements make the job more difficult. Root systems and inclement weather are the only two things that could extend the project.
"It's a tough job because the spoil piles from the mosquito ditches make a high incline elevation," said Cain. "It was easier to make the boardwalk into the preserve and then make the bridges. But, immediately after the bridge, you hit that sandy berm, and it becomes tricky because of the steepness. That spoil pile is so high that we have to come down gradually to be ADA compliant."
Matanzas Pass Preserve offers roughly 1.5 miles of trails with surfaces of dirt/ sand or recycled boardwalk. The trails wind through both dry and wet land and supports a wide variety of trees and foliage and the coastal line, which is a habitat that receives tidal flow from the Back Bay and is home to black, red and white mangrove trees.
The $35,000 project is funded with a Lee County Tourist Development Council grant.
"I am just so thrilled that ADA people will be able to traverse on the boardwalk through the black mangroves area and get out to the pavilion to see the bay," said Cain. "I just think that is great."
Matanzas Pass Preserve history
Visitors to the pristine 60-acre site can enjoy an Old Florida feel. It is one of the few remaining natural habitats on Estero Island.
Cain said the original boardwalk was installed under the Nature Conservancy around 1974-75.
"It was put in by the boy scouts, the Monday group, Rotary club and Beach Kiwanis. It was a local organized effort," she said.
In 1995, Lee County took over Matanzas Pass Preserve by acquiring it through the Conservation 20/20 Program. That year the beginning of the recycled boardwalk was installed.
Since then, County officials with the help of a group of volunteer residents called Friends of Matanzas Preserve maintain the preserve.
The boardwalk trail is included in the looped trail system that stretches from Tropical Shores Way all the way to Donora Boulevard on Estero Island.
Along the trail, there are informational signs and plaques on the history of the preserve and Estero Island. You can learn about the change of the island's contours or when and why native plants were added and exotic vegetation removed or how mangroves adapt to survive in salt water.
Near the pavilion, there is paddling access to the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail.
The preserve is located at 199 Bay Road (at the end of that street) with its entrance behind Beach Elementary School.
Normal operating hours are 7 a.m. to dusk year-round, while guided tours are offered from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Thursdays during season. Visit www.leeparks.org or call 533-7444 for more information.