Living Sanibel: Estero Bay Preserve State Park
The vast majority of this 11,000-acre site consists of sovereign submerged lands and adjacent wetlands that were acquired by Florida to help protect the state’s first designated aquatic preserve, Estero Bay. The northern half of the aquatic preserve was established in 1966, and the southern half, running all the way to the Collier County line, was added in 1983.
The Estero Bay Preserve State Park has no real amenities, ranger-guided tours, or designated activities. Two public boat ramps are available: for larger vessels, the boat ramp located on the bay side of Lovers Key State Park is the best choice; for canoeists and kayakers, the smaller launch on the Estero River, located at the Koreshan State Historic Site, is ideal.
Access by land is limited to two systems of hiking trails located on either side of Estero Bay. The larger of these is the Estero River Scrub Trails, accessed by a trailhead near the end of Broadway Avenue West, approximately one mile east of U.S. 41 in Estero. Its 10-miles of trails crisscross through habitats that include pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, salt marshes, salt flats, and mangrove forests. Formerly destined to become a 1,500-unit housing development, the upland section of the park was purchased for preservation by the state of Florida in 2000. The trails accommodate both hikers and off-road bicyclists, but many of the trails become impassable during the summer rainy season.
The other section of trails is located at the very end of the Winkler Road Extension, 3.2 miles south of Summerlin Road (CR 896). Covering just over four miles of flatwoods, salt flats, and tidal marshes, the Winkler Point trails traverse a large area of land that is in the process of reclamation. Once covered in invasive melaleuca and Brazilian pepper, many of the larger trees have been poisoned and now stand in various stages of decay. Among the highlights of these trails are two observation decks overlooking tidal ponds and the vast expanse of salt flats near the southern end.
Salt flats are nonvegetated zones sometimes called salt barrens or salinas. They are often devoid of any plants or covered by salt-tolerant species such as sea purslane, saltwort, and glasswort. While appearing lifeless and barren, they play a crucial role in habitat for various ground-nesting birds such as black-necked stilts and killdeer. Because they are so different from most of Florida’s lush, green environments, the Estero salt flats make for an unusual change of scenery for the curious naturalist.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.