The little beach preserve across San Carlos Bay is approaching its 65th birthday in fine form.
That was the sentiment of Lee County Conservation Lands management staff in the reviewal of a second edition management plan (a required 10-year update) for Bunche Beach during a public meeting at the Wa-ke Hatchee Park Recreation Center in south Fort Myers last week.
Situated across from Bowditch Park on Fort Myers Beach, Bunche Beach preserve is one of Lee County Parks & Recreation's most popular beach preserves. It began as a $100 half-acre-lot County acquisition in 1949 and has grown to roughly 718 acres, including one of the most notable bird watching sites.
COURTESY OF LEE PARKS
In 1968, you can buildings on Bunche Beach in this provided aerial.
"This was the first designated beach area for our local community of black people to go to without being harassed," said County Land Steward Coordinator Terry Cain, a Beach resident.
The preserve park, located at 18201 John Morris Rd., received its name from Dr. Ralph Bunche, the first African American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, the same year of the dedication ceremony.
Some 51 years later, Conservation 20/20 funds purchased most of the remaining acreage (704 acres). That program was initiated when County voters approved a referendum five years earlier that added 0.5 mil to property taxes to purchase and protect environmentally sensitive lands. A dozen more acres were donated by Sanibel Beach Place in 2005 and, a year later, an essential dredged spoiled area was acquired to make way for construction of an Outdoor Activity Center.
"When Conservation 20/20 acquired this, they were able to get it at half of the cost through a grant from Florida Communities Trust," said Cain. "Certain requirements (from the trust led to) areas for kayaking, fishing and rest room areas if possible. This is the only parcel that isn't a disturbed piece of land. That is why we received permitting to build on it."
The center and its amenities was completed in June 2010. The 1.5-acre parcel is highlighted by two kayak launches with access to Rock Creek and the bay, two overlook/fishing piers, a Clivus Multrum composting restroom, an observation deck and a parking lot with a storm tech system feature to catch storm water runoff. A shell trail was also built from the center to the beachfront.
Cain listed many changes at Bunche Beach and neighboring Plover Island from 2001 to 2013. She pointed out foliage differences during a slide presentation.
"There have been big pushes to eradicate Australian Pine and Brazilian Pepper trees," Cain said. A controlled burn extinguished much of the exotic plantlife on Plover Island.
There are reports that the plan is critical because the preserve is home to numerous state and federally listed plant and animal species including stiff-leaved wild pine, inkberry, piping plovers, least terns and loggerhead sea turtles.
The east-to-west beach rises out of San Carlos Bay then slopes down into mangrove swamps and into the salt flats until the elevation increases to the north toward Summerlin Road and the Mastique developed area. Critical erosion has created a cove on the beachfront of Bunche Beach. Some donated cabbage palms are feeling the effects of prolonged saltwater invasion.
According to County records, the Preserve is unique because the natural areas were not disturbed until the mosquito ditches were dug in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Beside the ditches and John Morris Road, little else has been disturbed in the transitioning natural areas. The majority of the Preserve is mangrove swamp with mangrove tunnels and small creeks.
After storm events, asphalt and posts are exposed on the beachfront. Cain stated the under surface includes two inches of asphalt and coquina shell below it.
"This is the original road to Fort Myers Beach," she said. "What happened here was there was a shell road and, once the shell road had been established and it was secure and firm, they put the asphalt on top of it."
History is what separates Bunche Beach from like beaches. That and its beautifully secluded natural habitat. No future expansion is planned at this time due to the state of the economy.
The plan will now be presented to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for approval. Go to www.conservation2020.org/documents/LSP/2013_SCBBBP_Draft_LMP_web.pdf to review it.