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Week-long ‘The Big Calusa’ opens on Earth Day

By Staff | Apr 18, 2019

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

The Big Calusa Festival is an ambitious creation to get the community out for a fun week of recreation, culture and cleanup, organizers said.

“We wanted to create a positive event and make people feel good about the water and reconnect people,” said KC Schulberg, Calusa Waterkeeper executive director and creator of The Big Calusa.

“We wanted to create a fun water festival and at different opportunities talk about water advocacy,” he said.

The group has been in front of the community, holding events with 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’s time to devote some time to 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 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 22, Earth Day, 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 also will 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 the 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, through April 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, starting on Monday and continuing through April 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 Wednesday, 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 “Calusa Waterkeeper” John Cassani.

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

Myra Roberts, a Sanibel artist who has been so generous to Calusa Waterkeeper, will provide some culture that night with her artwork. Naples-based painter Paul Arsenault also will 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.

For Friday, April 26, 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, Saturday, April 27, at North Shore Park along the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers, will feature an ACA-sanctioned kayak and paddleboard races, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The races will be 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 River 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 will begin and run until noon.

The magical tugboat, “Little Toot” arrives by water at noon. Captain 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 this 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 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 28, 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, 2350 McGregor Blvd.

South Florida Water Management District Chairman and former Sanibel City Council member Chauncey Goss will give remarks at the awards ceremony.

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

Also next Sunday, the Calusa Waterkeeper Membership Dinner, the 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, 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.