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Spend the first day of 2011 ‘Meandering on the Marsh’ at Prairie Pines Preserve

By Staff | Dec 27, 2010

If you are looking for a scenic, peaceful and nature informative way to spend the very first day of the new year, a free special guided nature walk at Prairie Pines Preserve in North Fort Myers will be held on Jan. 1.
While tours are regularly offered, this is a healthy way to start the new year right, said officials.
The walk is called “New Year’s Morning Atop the Marsh” and starts at 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day. From the ADA-compliant boardwalk known as 1/4 Mile Loop Boardwalk, this hour-long stroll will traverse a seasonal marsh while learning more about the birds, butterflies, and plants that call it home.
Participants will visit one small section of the 2,654-acre Conservation 20/20 Prairie Pines Preserve, what locals describe as a wilderness oasis that includes nature trails, wildlife observation areas and equestrian trails.
Gayle Sheets and Janet Bunch are volunteers for Lee County Parks & Recreation, and lead the guided nature walks. Bunch, a North Fort Myers resident, generally leads the one at Prairie Pines Preserves.
They are members of the Lee County Bird Patrol.
“The Bird Patrol is a group of volunteers who visit Conservation 20/20 properties on a monthly basis to count species and more, then turn the numbers over to the county,” said Sheets. They also note water issues and vegetation. “That way, they can know how they are doing health-wise, ecologically.”
Sheets has been visiting Prairie Pines for several years.
“Prairie Pines is so quiet and beautiful,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place for all the senses. There are beautiful things to see, the ponds, marshes and the boardwalk.”
“It’s an incredible jewel right on our doorstep,” said Bunch. She moved to the area, close to the preserve in 2,000.
“One of the first thing I heard was, “Did you hear about the great park?”
She’s frequented it since.
Sheets said she began being interested in bird watching in general when she moved to Florida 15 years ago.
“There are so many beautiful, showy birds here; they’re big, colorful, big in the sky and that’s what drew me in.”
Bunch said she’s always loved nature. “I was one of those kids that grew up with mom throwing you out the door in the morning, so I’m used to enjoying the outdoors.”
By volunteering as a guide and with the Bird Patrol, they both volunteer at something they enjoy.
“I also love the fact that I can be helpful to the county. The county staff is very efficient and makes wonderful use of volunteers,” said Sheets.
On the guided walks, guides point out all types of preserve features, give information and answer questions. “We try to keep the walks at around an hour, depending on how many people come,” Bunch said. “We talk about the ecosystem, answer questions and if people have more questions, they hang around.”
The Marsh Loop Trail is handicapped accessible, important for many that visit the preserve. It is a flat area, easy on wheelchairs and walkers.
Those of all ages visit the preserve. Horse lovers enjoy coming there to ride, and there are extra large parking spots that allow for horse trailers. Dog lovers bring their pet, but they must be on a six foot or shorter leash.
There is also a New Year’s Day walk at Lakes Regional Park on New Year’s Day, also starting at 9 a.m.
At Prairie Pines Preserve, meet in the parking lot at 18400 N. Tamiami Trail in North Fort Myers. A sign noting the preserve entrance is on the east side of US-41, between Del Prado Ext. and the Del Tura Publix center.
At Lakes Regional Park, 7330 Gladiolus Dr. in Fort Myers, meet at Shelter A7. Enter Lakes Park gate from Gladiolus. Turn right. Drive to end of road, continue through the parking lot. Shelter A7 is located near the Train Station.
For more information on the Prairie Pines walk, go to birdpatrol.org or call 533-7455. For Lakes Park, call 533-7580 or 533-7576.
The tours are provided in cooperation with Lee County Parks and Recreation, and free.