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Lee County updates Matanzas Pass Preserve park plan

July 26, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach's well-loved preserve will be sticking to the status quo.

Lee County is completing a routine update of its county parks and preserves plans, and held a public meeting Tuesday, July 18 to discuss Matanzas Pass Preserve with local residents.

Terry Cain, land stewardship coordinator for Lee County, led a presentation to approximately 19 attendees, overviewing the park's current management plan and what updates or changes were needed.

Article Photos

File photo.

"We touched on the high points, and touched on things we don't see in other plans because some pretty cool things have happened at Matanzas," Cain said.

The county updates each park management plan about every 10 years. This is the third edition of the preserve's plan.

The plan outlines the preserve's past, present and future, outlining goals and initiatives. It was last updated in 2006, and a lot has happened since, Cain said.

Fact Box

Cottage update

After a careful midnight move in June, the 3360 Estero Boulevard cottage is still awaiting its final destination.

Fort Myers Beach developer Joe Orlandini voluntarily moved the cottage to save it after he and business partner Michael Huffman, who owned the property it sat on, learned of its historical significance.

Orlandini's hope is that the cottage can be placed at Matanzas Pass Preserve, and he's doing work on the cottage to make sure it's ready when the time comes.

"We're doing the facade now, cleaning it up and getting it ready to paint," he said.

Orlandini's had the cottage sanded down for a new coat of paint and he's also found an appliance store that specializes in old appliances.

"We're going to try to get it as far back to the era as we can," he said.

Matt Noble, principal planner with the Town of Fort Myers Beach, is working with the county to facilitate the move.

The cottage from Boca Grande, once resided in by Katherine Hepburn, is no longer getting a second home on Fort Myers Beach. The cottage was originally going to be donated to the Lee County by owner Bruce Kenan, but the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board stopped the move to keep the cottage.

More educational programming has been added to the roster by the Friends of Matanzas Pass group; 1.5 acres were added to the preserve from Conservation 2020 funding; and the sand in the preserve was dated by Tennessee Tech University researcher, Frank Stapor.

Stapor sampled three areas of the preserve in 2015 and found parts of the preserve dated back to 512 A.D., which matches the Mound House's earliest records of inhabitants.

In 2014, the preserve also introduced the air potato beetle to eat invasive air potato plants, according to the presentation. After a faulty season, the beetles did help reduce the presence of the plant, which is the only thing they eat.

The Friends group has developed a myriad of programs for adults and children alike, ranging from the full moon walk through the preserve to the magic spot class, where kids get to pick their own spot in the preserve to relax, meditate, journal or draw.

Florida Gulf Coast University students also visit the preserve as part of the required colloquium course, which teaches about local history, culture and ecology, to learn sense of place.

"The educational programs are outstanding. I love them all," Cain said.

Despite the preserve's somewhat hidden entrance and a lack of parking, Cain said it tracks in about 3,000 visitors a month in season. Its visitors only slow a little in the off-season, as June brought 1,000 people into the preserve.

"Because it's quiet and has limited parking, people don't realize how much it is utilized," she said.

With its popularity comes problems; Cain said the county is keeping a close eye on the carrying capacity of the park to make sure it is not overwhelmed.

"We have to watch that in our natural areas, we have to make sure our natural critters have a place there," she said. "We are trying to keep an area in a natural state for the wildlife so we can go and enjoy that wildlife."

The county is also closely watching for feral cats. The beach is home to several colonies of feral felines, which can be detrimental to wildlife if they hunt down native species. So far, it hasn't become a huge problem at the preserve, Cain said.

The Friends group is involved in the ongoing monitoring of plant species in the preserve; the group helps to record and document a list of vegetation that calls the preserve home, both native and non-native species. So far, they've listed 160 plants, said Jim Rodwell, a member.

"I specialize in doing the plant list, and it's extensive," he said.

The Friends have also launched Project Monarch, where they plant native milkweed plants and remove exotic plants to encourage monarch butterflies, which are endangered, to hang around the preserve.

The Friends group has been involved in the park management plan for years, and have helped develop it over time.

The next steps for Matanzas is really to just keep it status quo, Cain said, continue to let it thrive while it's in conservation for perpetuity.

Some of the trails have been in place for decades, and have eroded and exposed tree roots. Some of the boardwalks need to be replaced. These are two examples of improvements the park may see in the future, Cain said.

"Now we're getting an opportunity to get in and get some projects done, that's what I'm excited about," Rodwell said.

Cain said the preserve could potentially get some expansion of the boardwalk trails, but the park purposefully has both developed paths and more natural trails.

"We like to please both kinds of guests," she said. "Those looking for old Florida, that really natural hiking experience and whose who like the boardwalk, so everyone gets the experience they're looking for."



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