Sunday, December 29, 2013

II. Fort Myers Beach in Photos: Beaches, Parks and Landmarks



Aerial view of Estero Island and Bowditch Point Regional Park in the 70s
(Click on any pic to enlarge it.)

Bowditch Point Regional Park encompasses the northern-most tip of Estero Island and is located between the Gulf of Mexico and Matanzas Pass. On the Estero Bay side, you can watch boats entering and exiting the bay via Matanzas Pass, and on the Gulf of Mexico beachfront side, you can see walkers, swimmers and sunbathers. There are also walking trails through the preserve, a picnic area with tables and grills, changing facilities and restrooms in the park.

The park was named after Nathaniel Bowditch, who is considered the father of modern maritime navigation. Lee County purchased the seventeen-acre property in 1987 in order to develop the site for recreational use. Although the park opened in 1994, it didn’t reach its full potential as a recreational area until 2002, when the grounds were replanted with native vegetation, the facilities were improved and a number of parking spaces were added.
Bowditch Point on the Estero Bay side
The northern-most tip of Estero Island
Strollers approaching the tip of Bowditch Point on the Gulf of Mexico side
Refurbished beach on the Gulf side and dredging equipment
A boardwalk towards picnic pavilions in the park
Picnic pavilions and concession stand
Picnic pavilions
The boardwalk leads to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico side of Bowditch Point
Bowditch Point at sunset


The foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge

The intersection at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge
Go left and you are at Times Square; go right and you are on Estero Boulevard, the main (and only) artery of Fort Myers Beach.

Lee County officially acquired the Seafarer’s property and the three Gulf-front lots on Estero Boulevard for a total of $5.6 million in September, 2010. (The Seafarer’s property cost $980,000.) Demolition work at the Seafarer’s Mall site just across the street was carried out in June. The whole Seafarer's site across the street from the park has been viewed as a strategic development area, but to date, it has been left barren. 

The Seafarers property before demolition
After demolition of the Seafarers property

Kids from the the Children’s Mural Project painted ocean scenes to decorate the fence around the Seafarers vacant property. It was a great improvement.

The beachfront parcels were subsequently converted into a beachside park with sand volleyball courts and picnic shelters with tables. Commissioner Ray Judah favored calling the property, “Crescent Beach Park,” but the word “Family” was added to the name to reinforce the idea of a family-friendly destination.

Crescent Beach Family Park sign facing Estero Boulevard
This two-acre beachfront park sits at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge on Estero Boulevard.
The three gulf-front lots were razed in preparation for the park.
The same view of the property but with Tiki huts and volleyball courts

A lone palm tree on the gulf-front lot with the pier in the background in this "before" shot

The same view of the lone palm and pier in the background but with newly added palm trees and vegetation in the foreground
A view of the park towards Estero Boulevard
The mural project is all along the fence in the background.
A uniquely designed tiki hut and another look at the mural project
Newton Park is a beachfront property that belonged to James (1905-1999) and Eleanor (1899-2003) Newton, whose extensive friendships with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Charles Lindbergh, and others are recorded in Jim Newton’s book, “Uncommon Friends.” At Seven Seas, the Newtons’ home, Ellie Newton entertained such luminaries as Frits Phillips, former chairman of the Philips electronics company, King Michael of Romania and Queen Anne, among others. The house was built in 1953, and the Newtons’ personal associations and the gatherings that took place at Seven Seas represent a unique chapter in the history of Fort Myers Beach. The Town of Fort Myers beach acquired the estate in 2003 by virtue of a grant from the Florida Communities Trust program and Lee County. Additional funds from the Lee County Tourist Development Council and Town park impact fees have made possible the development of the property into a passive park. The Seven Seas beach cottage at Newton Park has been restored and can be rented for private events. The cottage isn’t really very big, but it sits on a gorgeous piece of property on the gulf, and the rooms look directly out over the water.
Newton Park with tiki hut and picnic tables

The tiki hut with a glimpse of the Gulf in the background

Seven Seas cottage

The Seven Seas cottage with a small parking lot, landscaped paths and handicapped access

 The cottage on the side facing the gulf

A corner view of the cottage
Estero Island was once at the very center of the Calusa Indian heartland. The Calusa Indians ruled a vast south Florida empire from their ceremonial center on nearby Mound Key, a 125-acre island in Estero Bay. The Calusa were a powerful people and controlled all of the Native groups in Southern Florida, including the Miami area. They thrived on the rich estuarine environment, eating fish and shellfish as well as hunting deer, bear, raccoon, and possum, and moving up and down waterways like the Caloosahatchee River on canoes. Large shell mounds can still be seen where Calusa villages once stood. When the Spanish tried to land, they were met with hostility which resulted in deaths, including that of Ponce de Leon on his second Florida exploration and attempted settlement when he was mortally wounded, returning to Havana where he died.
The Mound House, situated on Estero Bay, sits on an ancient Calusa Indian Mound and commands a sweeping vista of Estero Bay. It is Estero Island’s oldest standing structure and has undergone many changes since it was first built in 1906. The Mound House became the property of the newly incorporated Town of Fort Myers Beach in 1995 and became the town’s first preservation effort. One of the changes made in 1958 was the installation of a swimming pool. Cracked and deteriorated, the pool was removed and the space taken up by the pool was transformed into an underground room which shows the layers of the shell mound through 2,000 years of history. Above ground, the house itself is slowly being restored to an earlier period of time and the grounds are being restored to feature native plants and shell mound vegetation. The purchase of the property was made possible by a grant from Florida Communities Trust, and the shell mound exhibit was supported by a grant from the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources. The entire site is a work in progress, but eventually, its mission as a cultural and educational center with exhibits of artifacts and photographic displays of times gone by at the Mound House will be realized.


A Gumbo-limbo tree used to be in front of the Mound House.

It is called the “Tourist Tree’ because its bark is red and peeling like the sunburned skin of a tourist. The screened-in swimming pool is to the left of the main house. This is a pre-restoration photo.

The huge trees had to be removed because they were a danger to the foundation of the Mound House.

The same view of the Mound House as of October, 2013

The Mound House with a corner view as it was before the trees were removed
The same corner view as of October, 2013

A side view of the Mound House, pre-restoration
A current view of the Mound House with a glimpse of the bay in the background
The entrance to the shell mound exhibit
The exhibit is located where the swimming pool used to be.
A floor-to-ceiling mural depicts life in a Calusa village.
Jacqueline and Mehmet from Germany were visitors to the Mound House.
LED lights illustrate the seashell strata of mound-building according to time periods.


Matanzas Pass Preserve is nearly 60 acres of unspoiled sanctuary for native plants and animals, including raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, herons, fish, and songbirds. The main entrance to the Preserve is on Bay Road located behind Beach Elementary School and just beyond the Estero Island Historic Cottages. There are 1.25 miles of boardwalks and trails that wind through the canopies of mangroves and oak hammock. The Matanzas Pass Preserve offers many educational opportunities, including guided walks, tours led by an ethnobotanist, volunteer training, stress detox tours, and a new children's educational program.

Making the Preserve available and inviting to residents and visitors alike required a great deal of work. Clearing paths, hauling debris, building an elevated boardwalk with bridges, placing benches, and trimming vegetation began in 1977 with volunteers from various community groups. The Nature Conservancy officially opened the Preserve with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 20, 1979 with the title, Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve.

In 1994, the Matanzas Pass (Wilderness) Preserve property was donated to Lee County by The Nature Conservancy at which time the word “Wilderness” was removed from the name. The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve has since been formed to help protect and preserve the natural habitat of this unique natural environment on Fort Myers Beach.
The Estero Island Historic Society and Nature Center 

Built in 1921, this beachfront cottage was relocated from Mango Street and dedicated in 1997 as the Estero Island Historic Society and Nature Center. It is now at the entrance to the 57-acre Matanzas Pass Preserve, at the end of Bay Road behind the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School.
The Historic Society Annex
This “Laughing Gull” cottage was built as a beachside rental and was relocated in 2002 to serve as the Library and Board Room to the Estero Island Historic Society.

The Historic Society cottage near the entrance to the Preserve

Entrance to the Preserve

Hiking trails through the Preserve alternate with boardwalks

The trail leads across a bridge

The bridge crosses a marine swamp, which in the Preserve is wetland dominated by trees.


A boardwalk winds through the Preserve.
Choose your loop, Calusa or Mangrove.

The hiking trail continues.

The hiking trail beneath a canopy of trees

A Virginia Live Oak with resurrection ferns and Spanish moss on the lower branches
The Resurrection fern looks brown and dead until rain brings it back to life.
A close-up of a live oak tree
The boardwalk over the marine swamp loops through the Preserve.
The hiking trail continues.
A view through the mangroves toward Estero Bay
The boardwalk deck leading to the Rotary Pavilion was constructed from recycled plastic containers. They were ground up, melted down and made into plastic “lumber” for the boardwalk.

The Pavilion on Estero Bay
A view of Estero Bay from the pavilion


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