About 2 1/2 miles south of the 4-way intersection on Pine Island, directly across from Flamingo Bay, is the Pine Island Preserve at Matlacha Pass. The project is a Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast preserve purchased in part with a $6.6 million grant from the Florida Communities Trust.
Last Tuesday, the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast presented a conceptual plan for the preserve to island residents. About 70 people filled the Elks' hall.
Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast president Christine Johnson opened the meeting.
"Thank you for having us here today," Johnson said. "Our main office is in Osprey, Fla., and we have 31 properties that we have saved totaling almost 8,600 acres ranging from Manatee County and south to Pine Island. We not only have preserves but conservation agreements with land owners, and we work with county government and Lee County's Program 20/20. Kristin Caborn is the Atkins project manager for planning and landscape architecture on this project."
"When we design something like this we want to have something for everyone," Caborn said. "I specialize in public parks and recreation projects. What is so cool about this 230 acres is the great stuff from the mangroves to the eagle's nest. Off in the east are the mangroves. Moving west are the salt flats that are influenced by the tides this is a really neat ecosystem. Then there are pine flatlands where there are tall pines and native flora - a great habitat for gopher tortoises and Indigo snakes. In the middle is an existing wetland area.
"We try to be sensitive to the environment and the flora and fauna that is on the site," she said. "We have an eagle's nest with a 660-foot buffer. We can't have anything 'active' inside that buffer. We can have people inside the buffer because it can be an educational experience.
"This park is intended to be very passive in nature with a lot of educational opportunities and that will be the goal of this park probably 360 days out of the year. We not only won't be removing gopher tortoises but were talking about possibly bringing them in."
"Thomas Johnson, our senior landscape architect, will take you through the conceptual plan for this preserve. The main entrance is directly off of Stringfellow Road," Johnson said. "The first thing you will see is this large open space about 20 acres of open meadow. This could be used to throw a Frisbie or a ball. It could also be used for special events. This could be used for MangoMania."
Directly behind the open area is an area that Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast hopes to restore to a pine flatwoods area - this would extend the total land preserved. There are two parking lots, one that would handle 25-35 cars, and another that could handle 15 cars. A manager's cottage is planned that would house a full-time on-site manager. Farther into the park there is a trail system. One trail would lead to a canoe and kayak launch into Matlacha Pass. This would be an Americans with Disabilities Act trail that will be an elevated boardwalk. Other trails are planned to be "soft" trails, possibly gravel. In the center of the park there is a wetland area surrounded by live oaks.
According to Johnson there is a "cultural" history on the preserve. She suggested that the Calusa Indians may have had a presence on the site and that a hand dug canal may be present. She called it a "significant" find that might become a "restored" canal for educational purposes. There is also a historic slough (a marshy pool or pond) that could also be used for educational purposes. An observation deck is proposed to observe the Eagle's nest. The open area will have picnic pavilions. For kayakers that come to the park a vendor will provide the service of transporting kayaks from the parking area to the launch site for a fee.
"In a perfect world this entire project would be built in a single phase but we don't live in a perfect world," Johnson said. "There are financial constraints and right now the foundation has about $1.6 million of the $3.7 funded for this project."
Phase one development includes about 1/3 of the entire preserve which would include the lawn area, entry drive and parking, restrooms, bocce courts, observation deck, plus the boardwalk trail to the kayak launch.
Phase two would include restoration of the pine flatwoods and the construction of other nature trails.
Information is available at: www.conservationfoundation.com/land-protection/pine-island-preserve-matlacha-pass/