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The Big Calusa to honor Earth Day with week-long activities

By Staff | Apr 16, 2019

In an effort to reconnect the community to the waterways, Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit clean water advocacy group, is kicking off the inaugural, The Big Calusa, a recreational, educational and cultural family friendly week-long festival this month.

The event is an ambitious creation to get the community out for a fun week of recreation, culture and cleanup.

“We wanted to create a positive event and make people feel good about the water and reconnect people,” KC Schulberg, Calusa Waterkeeper’s executive director and creator of The Big Calusa, said. “We wanted to create a fun water festival and at different opportunities talk about water advocacy.”

The group has been in the front of the community holding events on such topics as public health, economic damage and legislation policy and regulation since last year’s red tide and blue-green algae outbreak.

Now it is time to devote some time on the resource itself.

“We have had amazing support. We are pretty pleased. It will become an annual event,” Schulberg said.

The event will kick off on April 22, Earth Day, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. with the Calusa Kayakers Clean-up Kick Off Party at Millennial Brewing Company in Fort Myers.

“Millennial Brewing is such a wonderful community member. They are throwing us a big party,” he said.

The event will unveil a specially crafted brew, The Big Calusa, which will be on tap at various venues all week. The event will also feature musical entertainment, food trucks, as well as the opportunity to sign up kayak races and clean-up crews.

The “Race for Clean Water” is $25 and can be purchased at calusawaterkeeper.networkforgood.com/events/12364-big-calusa-race-sign-up.

A film crew will also be onsite walking around and recording the festivities for the end of the week compilation film.

On Earth Day, The Big Calusa will team up with Keep Lee County Beautiful in initiating Calusa Clean-Up, a week-long effort to clean local waterways while partnering with kayak outfitters, civic associations, homeowners associations, service groups, churches and schools.

The clean-up will be held from April 22-28. Those interested can contact Mike Thomas of Keep Lee County Beautiful at mike@klcb.org or by calling 239-334-3488.

Schulberg said individuals participating in the clean-up are encouraged to take a picture of their clean-up location, refuse they have collected and tag themselves with #calusacleanup on their event Facebook page. The clean-up can be done on foot, in canoes and kayaks, or on power boats.

“We will keep track of what people are collecting and give some awards out,” he explained.

In addition, from April 22-28, kayak outfitters who join the program will hand out garbage bags, rubber gloves and tagging details. They are encouraged to reimburse one hour of rental fee for those kayakers who return with a bag of refuse. Those bags will be photographed and tagged #CalusaCleanup on the Big Calusa Facebook page and entered to win awards.

On April 24, the event will continue with Calusa Culture Night at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the event will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The speakers for the event include Woody Hanson, Ralph Woodring, Seminole Tribe member Brian Zepeda, Cindy Bear from the Randell Research Center, Amy Bennet Williams, Bill Hammond and John Cassani with Calusa Waterkeeper.

Schulberg said there will be some very colorful stories told, as some of the speakers have known the area for generations.

He said Sanibel artist Myra Roberts, who has been generous to Calusa Waterkeeper, will provide some culture that night with her artwork. Naples-based painter Paul Arsenault will also have water-themed works of art on display. In addition, a Seminole dugout canoe will be on display.

The Calusa Culture Night will also feature music by electric acoustic duo, Roots 2 Vine, who will premiere “The Big Calusa,” a song written for the occasion.

Tickets are available at www.sbdac.com or by calling 239-333-1933.

On April 26, Schulberg said Lee County officials stepped up and said they wanted to participate in the event. They will host a Filter Marsh Tour at Powell Creek Preserve. The tour is organized by the Lee County Natural Resources and Parks & Recreation’s Conservation 20/20 department.

The Big Calusa Day on April 27 at North Shore Park, located along the Caloosahatchee in North Fort Myers, will feature an ACA-sanctioned kayak and paddleboard races, which are held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The races are staggered every 10 minutes.

The race will include three kayak heats of 20 boats/one paddle board heat. The three-mile course will take participants along the north shore of the Caloosahatchee under two bridges and back to the North Shore Park. The event’s film crew will follow the action.

For more information about the race, contact Matt Willison at mattwillison@att.net or by calling 860-839-3987.

The event opens to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a great deal of activities for the entire family to enjoy. At 10 a.m., the Calusa Clean-Up kayak, canoe and paddleboard clean-up champions set off to collect trash and return at 3:30 p.m. Also at 10 a.m. a Fossil Finder’s activity for children ages 5 to 10 years old will begin and run until noon.

The magical tugboat, “Little Toot,” arrives by water at noon. Capt. Christopher Robin will share on-shore life lesson stories. Yemaya the Mermaid will also share stories during the event.

Three Fishermen Seafood Restaurant and food trucks will provide lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

The scheduled events will resume at 1:30 p.m. with fly fishing competition and demonstration. From 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. two seat kayaks for parent and their child with expert instruction will be provided for the kid kayak tours. The Fort Myers Power Squadron will provide boating safety lessons at 3 p.m.

Other adult and family activities include Hobie Cat sailboat rides, Master Naturalist Manatee Eco Tours and rowing demonstrations.

Schulberg said Keep Lee County Beautiful will also have a dumpster set up at Hancock Creek, which is a mile from their principal location, for those who wish to bring their canoe and paddle craft to clean up the waterways, which has not been done for a few years at the location.

Those who participate are encouraged to bring their own paddle craft. The comprehensive Big Calusa Clean-Up of Hancock Creek will work from the Hancock Creek Moody Boat Ramp in North Fort Myers.

The Big Calusa will conclude on April 28 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. with the Big Calusa Awards Ceremony. The ceremony will announce the Calusa clean-up champions, race-winners and local clean water heroes at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, at 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.

South Florida Water Management District Chairman Chauncey Goss will give remarks at the awards ceremony.

He said they will also recognize people who have done some amazing work to clean and preserve the waters for the last decade.

Also on April 28, the Calusa Waterkeeper Membership Dinner, annual membership and elections meeting will be held with keynote speaker Goss.

“The Big Calusa was created to remind our community why it is important to protect and preserve our waterways,” Schulberg said. “These precious natural resources, including our palm-lined beaches, exotic mangrove islands, unique ecosystems of marshes, tributaries, rivers and estuaries, not only provide boundless recreational opportunities, they serve as the underpinning of our economy, our livelihood and our enjoyment of Southwest Florida. We need to cherish and preserve these resources for future generations.”

Those who would like to sponsor the event can do so by emailing Schulberg at kc@calusawaterkeeper.org.

For more information about the Big Calusa, visit www.calusawaterkeeper.org/bigcalusa, www.facebook.com/events/297036610993211/ or follow Calusa Waterkeeper at www.Facebook.com/calusawaterkeeper.

Volunteers are also being sought. Those interested can fill out a form at calusawaterkeeper.org/events/big-calusa/ or contact info@calusawaterkeeper.org.