Living Sanibel: SCCF
While the total area under the management of the Sanibel and Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) exceeds 2,000 acres, most of that land is held as true wildlife preserve and is not accessible to the public. The majority of the hiking trails, along with a small interpretive center, a touch tank and gift shop are located at their headquarters along the Sanibel-Captiva Road. The area directly behind the main building is called the center tract, but it abuts directly to adjacent conservation parcels, making its 250 acres closer to 1,000 acres overall.
The major hiking trails, which total four-plus miles, are mowed footpaths that lead through corridors of marshes, wetlands and buttonwood forests. They culminate in a three-story wooden observation tower overlooking a section of the Sanibel River. The view from the top of the tower is extraordinary, in large part because this preserve land exists on what is traditionally some of the most valuable and over-developed real estate in Florida-barrier islands with beautiful beaches. For more than four decades it has been the primary mission of SCCF to acquire, restore and protect the lands in and around Sanibel and Captiva Islands and preserve these natural barrier island habitats for generations to come. There is also a Butterfly House and a Native Plant Nursery located on the grounds both of which are well worth exploring. Once a week a staff member takes visitors through a close up look at the Butterfly House, explaining in detail the life cycle of Florida’s numerous butterfly species.
Because their holdings are spread out across any number of tracts and locations, there are several more areas worth investigating, some on foot and some via canoe or kayak. Several smaller trails are located along Periwinkle Way, such as the Periwinkle Blue Skies Preserve Trail, whose trail head begins just across and slightly west of the Sanibel Community Church, located at 1740 Periwinkle Way. Another interesting short trail is located across from the Sanibel School. It is called the Pick Preserve and takes you back through a series of ancient beach ridges. On all of the trails, because of the freshwater sloughs and ponds found on Sanibel, look for otters, bobcats, marsh rabbits and a wide array of birds including Cooper’s hawks, common moorhens, killdeer, red-bellied woodpeckers and an assortment of sparrows and warblers during the migratory seasons. Another popular SCCF hiking trail is located in the Sanibel Gardens Preserve, located directly north of the Bailey Tract of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
On Captiva, the single largest holding of SCCF consists of the entirety of the 47.5-acre Patterson Island and the vast majority of the 300-acre Buck Key. While there are no hiking trails on either of these islands, they can be explored via canoe or kayak. There are several rental companies located on the bay side of Captiva making it easy to get on the water and take in Roosevelt Channel and the waters surrounding these two mangrove islands.
Beyond the hiking and kayaking, SCCF has several educational programs and guided activities that are generally held during the busier winter season. The various topics covered have to do with the biology and behavior of sea turtles, bobcats and alligators. Additional lectures are given on the history of the region, from the days of the Calusa through the incorporation of the City of Sanibel and its ongoing fight against over-development. Other activities include guided tours of the Caloosahatchee River, Dolphin and Wildlife cruises and a boat trip to see the historic fish houses located in Pine Island Sound.
Although SCCF has a Marine Lab located on Tarpon Bay next to the Tarpon Bay Explorers concession at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, it does not have any programs or displays that are presently open to the public. The lab focuses its attention on maintaining water quality in the back bays and estuaries surrounding both islands, with a special emphasis on the often harmful freshwater releases coming out of Lake Okeechobee via the Caloosahatchee River. Six RECON sensors are located across 90 miles of waterway to give the lab real-time analysis of salinity, temperature and the presence of algae and pollutants.
Another important aspect of SCCFs environmental mission is their sea turtle monitoring program. Hundreds of loggerhead, green, Kemp Ridley and even an occasional leatherback turtle nest are carefully marked and monitored by more than 100 volunteers from the surrounding community. During the summer months, the tiny snowy plover nests are added to this agenda, keeping the tiny chicks safe from unleashed pets and careless beachcombers. With its hiking trails, interpretive center and its various programs, a stop at SCCF while visiting Sanibel and Captiva will definitely add immeasurably to your barrier island experience.
-This article is an excerpt from Living Sanibel-A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.