Matanzas Pass Preserve received a face-lift and some well-deserved recognition during a trail naming, boardwalk extension and ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning.
Five trails in the 60-acre mangrove forest and maritime oak hammock property situated at the end of Bay Road on Estero Island were renamed in dedication of five founders of the Friends of Matanazas Pass Preserve (Roxie Smith, Lois Gressman, Tom Myers, Ann Alsop and Betty Davis Simpson). The ceremony also included plaque presentations, a peace pole presentation, the trail map unveiling and the ribbon cutting.
Many of the speakers thanked the visionaries and volunteers that created and maintained the preserve throughout its long history until present day.
Founders of Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve cut the ribbon during a ceremony for a trail naming and boardwalk extension. Pictured are Fran Myers (filling in for Roxie Smith), Betty Davis Simpson, Lois Gressman, Ann Alsop and Tom Myers.
"Because of them, we were able to save and protect this precious land on Fort Myers Beach," said former Lee Parks & Recreation Senior Supervisor for Beach parks Vicki Little during the welcoming.
"Matanzas Pass Preserve is all about adventure, vision and protecting the blessings that is this beautiful sanctuary on Fort Myers Beach," said Tree Andre during the invocation. "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift."
Lee Parks Land Stewardship Coordinator Terry Cain pointed out the timeline that begin with human existence in 500 AD, while being home of the Calusa Indians. Highlights of the site's history also described an idea of Lou Slack -writer for the Mad Hopper, now known as the Beach Observer - to purchase the land.
"Because of Lou and because of some of the people here today, we have Matanzas Pass Preserve," said Cain.
In 1992, a group meeting was held between the Beach visionaries, Lee County School Board, Department of Human Resources, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Ostego Bay Foundation, Fort Myers Beach Civic Association, The Nature Conservancy and Lee County government. In 2006, Lee County Conservation 20/20 acquired the Williamson-owned property.
"Eventually, The Nature Conservancy gave the land to the county," said Cain. "We have kept it as natural as we possibly could."
Cain, the event emcee, applauded those who volunteer in the preserve two Saturdays a month -like Beach resident Jim Rodwell- for trail maintenance, litter pickup and eradicating exotic plants and trees.
Matanzas Pass Preserve offers 1.25 miles of trails that wind through the canopies of mangroves and an oak hammock and a paddle craft landing that is part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail. The end-to-end path, which now has new sign markers engraved in wood, will allow those requiring ADA accessibility to experience the width of the preserve with a manageable route and palm and pine trees, maritime oaks with Spanish moss, mangroves and bush daisies on their way to a view of the Back Bay.
The ceremony honored those that have the "Visions of the Future" to help protect and care for the Beach preserve. Tom Myers, president of Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve, presented a special plaque to Lois Gressman for many years of dedicated service. Each of the other visionaries received wooden plaques as well.
"We started a long time ago. I am just so proud to be a part of it with all the people that are involved and those who were involved when we started," said Myers. "It is one of the magic places of the island."
Fran Myers except the plaque for and spoke on behalf of Roxie Smith, who is presently hospitalized.
"She asked me to say that almost every time the Tourist Development Council was asked for money for the preserve, especially the boardwalk, we were happy to do that," said Myers. "This is the jewel of the island, and we all know that."
Beach resident Dorothy Rodwell explained the reason for the peace pole and how to nourish it through different celebrations, like the hour-long mindfulness meditation summer celebration on June 14.
"Here in the preserve, we have a strong sense of stewardship," she said. "When a peace poll is put in, it is called planting a peace poll. We can only look forward to its fruit that helps people have more inner peace and peace among people. That's the fruit we see through future generations."
After the ceremony, many of the ceremony attendees walked the ADA path (Gressman and Historic Cottage educator Jo Hughes were transported via wheelchairs) to the pavilion and enjoyed the natural beauty en route to it and of the Back Bay.
The recent construction joined roughly 24 feet of wood path between two existing boardwalks. A Lee County Tourist Development Council grant funded the $35,000 project.