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Learn island history while paddling kayaks

March 27, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Town-owned Mound House property has lots to offer.

Many folks have witnessed the historical site's educational tours, such as the Plants & People Trail and The Stories Beneath Our Feet exhibit. There is also an Introduction to Paddle Boarding, Paddle Board Yoga and two different kayak trips that leave from the property landing and explore the "back country" mangrove creeks.

Last Friday, Town Cultural Resources Environmental Coordinator Parke Lewis took a small group of people on the more experienced of those paddling adventures. It was roughly a four-mile tour from Mound House across Matanzas Pass into the shallow sea grass flats of Hell Peckney Bay to Dog Key and then through a narrow tidal creek before returning to the 451 Connecticut St. location.

Article Photos

The paddling group curves around a waterway that leads to Hell Peckney Bay.

The group learned some paddling tips before embarking on a 3-1/2 hour trip that circled back. Along the way, kayakers may encounter numerous species of schooling fish, wading birds, dolphin and manatee. They can also learn about the three different types of mangroves, other native trees, shells, oysters, clams and the history that ties all marine habitat and plant life together with early settlers of the islands, such as the Calusa Indians.

Lewis, a biologist, offered insight on the trip while being the lead paddler.

"These mangrove islands form naturally from the red mangroves along the water," he said. "The black mangrove is different from the red mangrove in that it doesn't have prop roots."

As the paddling trip curved into Hell Peckney Bay, Lewis led them to Dog Key, a state-owned shell mound island roughly 20 acres in size that is open to the public to traverse on foot.

"This key is a good example of a mangrove island in an estuary system that has all the different species of mangroves," he said. "It has an ample supply of native vegetation you could find in a coastal strand or habitat."

The key does not boast posted signs. There have been concerns about looting.

"All archaeological sites in the state of Florida are protected," said Lewis. "You cannot take anything off of them."

A shell ridge runs parallel to the shore on Dog Key, which is above the high tide mark. The initial survey of the island occurred on 1878.

"These are frequently occurring natural events. Shell gets sifted out of the mud, like panning for gold, and ends up in these tiny shell ridges," said Lewis. "Based upon archaeological record, these tiny shell ridges became the foundation for mound complexes that the Calusa and archaic Indians before them would build up over time."

Lewis spoke about sea grape trees, jelly made from the grapes, stoppers and the buttonwood tree twigs and limbs that could be used for smoking fish.

"The green buttonwood twigs are very popular for grilling and smoking fish down here," he said.

The tour then paddled into a creek that meanders through a mangrove forest and is only accessible at high tide due to shallow water. Due to this writer's ability to duck below mangrove branches, the waterway was aptly named "Limbo Creek."

Once the paddlers exited the creek, they were led back into Matanzas Pass where Mound House could be easily viewed on top of its property hill.

The next kayak tour trip is an introduction to kayaking and a shorter trip on April 13. The next Estero Bay Guided Tour is set for April 26.



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