This 230-acre preserve on the eastern shore of Pine Island in Lee County was purchased in 2009 with a grant from the Florida Communities Trust's Florida Forever Grant Program. Conservation Foundation developed this conservation project in conjunction with the landowner, who sold the property at a discount and donated funds for park improvements and long-term stewardship.
By 2018, Conservation Foundation will open Pine Island Preserve at Matlacha Pass to the public, free of charge, 365 days a year. This park and nature preserve will serve as a trail head for Lee County's 190-acre Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve, the Great Calusa Blueway, and public water access to Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, and Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve.
This conservation purchase provides the opportunity to restore and enhance the land’s native habitats and provide desirable recreational opportunities. The wetlands within the eastern portion of the property contain salterns and a shoreline lined with about 500 feet of tidal mangrove habitat providing critical habitat for juvenile snook and tarpon, as well as endangered wading birds. Pine flatwoods onsite are home to rare species such as the gopher tortoise and eastern indigo snake, and large areas of pasture will be restored back to flatwoods in order to increase their habitat. These lands will be accessible to the public, and will include an observation boardwalk, kayak launch, restrooms, and picnic areas. The property will also be enjoyed as an event space for unique community events like Mango Mania, which are currently held off-island, due to a lack of event space.
The property is an important link in the assemblage of conserved lands protecting Pine Island and Charlotte Harbor. It is adjacent to the 16.4-mile Stringfellow Trial bike path and will provide public water access to over 1,500 miles of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.
A number of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) make their home on our Pine Island Preserve. These animals use powerful, stubby legs, to excavate burrows which may exceed 40 feet in length! Most of these burrows average 15 feet long and 6.5 feet deep. Inside the burrow, a single tortoise may share his home with a hodge-podge of roommates – from gopher crickets and gopher frogs, to eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, Florida mice, and burrowing owls. More than 350 different animals have been found in Gopher Tortoise burrows. Some are there seeking temporary shelter during storms and frequent wildfires, while others can live nowhere else (e.g. the gopher tortoise robber fly may never leave the burrow). As the loss of Gopher Tortoises and their burrows results in death for many more animals, the Gopher Tortoise is considered a “keystone species.” As in architecture, removal of the “keystone” causes the collapse of the entire structure – in this case a community of plants and animals.
The property is located 2.5 miles south of Pine Island Road Bridge, on Stringfellow Road, across from the Flamingo Bay community.
Restoration is underway and construction of recreational amenities will begin in 2016. Check our Pine Island Update to get news on our work on the preserve and plans for our opening celebration.