We are on the cusp of construction on Pine Island Preserve at Matlacha Pass. Over the past year, we finalized the design and navigated the permitting process. We anticipate approval from the regulatory agencies soon and hope to get the project well underway before the summer rains begin.
Pine Island is a haven for hikers, kayakers and birdwatchers. Trails will lead guests to various wildlife-viewing areas such as marshes and pine forests, home to Pine Island's most impressive bird species. The Preserve will also boast a half-mile boardwalk connecting visitors to some of Florida’s coolest, though hard-to-see places. The boardwalk will pass through salt marshes and stunning mangrove forests, before reaching a kayak dock on Matlacha Pass, a great rest-stop for paddlers on the Great Calusa Blueway. There will be 20 acres of multi-use open space and the creation of two ponds will provide a unique wading bird habitat. The central one-acre pond will be surrounded by a paved trail, two picnic pavilions and a restroom. Both ponds will capture feeder fish for wading birds. Scores of wood storks, egrets, herons and spoonbills will be a delight to see.
Check out this aerial footage of the boardwalk location, courtesy of our engineering and permitting team.
We continue to restore the Preserve’s natural areas. Fire was re-introduced to all 100 acres of pine flatwoods, reducing invasive plants to a “maintenance” level, and with the help of volunteers we planted 300 longleaf pine trees. The next exciting phase is beginning, with greater opportunities for you to be involved. The pastureland fronting Stringfellow Road will transform from exotic grasses back to native pine flatwoods. The once disturbed row-cropped and grazing land will be covered with beautiful wildflowers and native grasses. Volunteers will continue to plant hundreds of trees within this new grassland and the recreation area surrounding the main pond will be transformed as well. We hope to engage the community in planting beautiful shade trees for people, trees for wildlife, and wetland trees. Community members have also built nest boxes for eastern bluebirds and American Kestrels and will install them throughout the site.
Pine Island Preserve will most likely be open to the public by early 2018. In the meantime, we invite you, our conservation community, to grow with us. Join us for a series of “hard-hat tours” during construction, nature walks, and tree planting days. If you are interested in joining us, please visit www.conservationfoundation.com/events to see the latest offerings and sign up.
Last December, people gathered alongside Stringfellow Road and unlocked the pasture gate to Pine Island Preserve at Matlacha Pass. They set out to learn about an uncommon tree – the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris – and return this tree to Pine Island Preserve after 100 years of absence.
Longleaf is a type of pine that once formed a mighty southeastern forest, spanning nine states and 140,000 square miles. Trees were large and tall, forming a high canopy with open meadows underneath – a beautiful landscape of grassy carpets framed by columns supporting an emerald ceiling. Unfortunately the tree was harvested heavily and by 1920, many of Pine Island’s trees were gone. Today, just 3% of all longleaf pine trees remain in the United States.
Longleaf pine forests provided an exceptional ecosystem and the tree removal hurt many animals, especially species such as the gopher tortoise, Sherman’s fox squirrel, eastern indigo snake and red-cockaded woodpecker. The good news is that today, groups in the Southeast are joining the Longleaf Alliance to rebuild the forest, and in December, our community joined the effort.
A cadre of enthusiastic volunteers gathered to reintroduce longleaf pine to Pine Island Preserve. People came from all over: a conservation couple from Virginia, a retiree from Venice, a tree-planting powerhouse from Cape Coral, a Florida cracker from Ft. Myers, and gardeners from Pine Island. Together, we planted almost 300 trees before lunchtime. It was easy and fun, rewarding and significant.
While planting, participants also learned about the understory of grasses and flowers which are another key part of the ecosystem. The grasslands are incredible food factories, turning out large quantities of insects and seeds – the meat and potatoes of the wildlife world. And without grasses to provide the fuel to help spread fire, the rejuvenating effect of fire would be lost.
Following planting, a Pine Island neighbor, Maryanne Adams, made it her mission to keep the trees watered. When we thanked her for her help, Maryanne responded, “I feel like I’ve done something good, and I like being out there in the middle of all that peace and quiet.”
Maryanne also monitors the bird populations on Pine Island, which are surging due to habitat restoration. Her sightings include a pair of nesting red-headed woodpeckers; bald eagles that have moved their nest from an exotic Australian pine to a native slash pine; and red-tailed hawks that are starting a new nest. Maryanne has recorded 45 different species so far. Overall, the bird populations are a testament to the importance of the longleaf forest, and the difference we can make together.
With your help, Conservation Foundation will bring even more wildlife back this year by converting 58 acres of cattle pasture back to longleaf forest. We look forward to what may come from this. Not just restoration and old things regained, but creating opportunity for new experiences and new memories at a wonderful new park. Please join us.
When we see declines in fish and wildlife, it is most commonly caused by habitat loss and habitat degradation. For southwest Florida saltwater fish, habitat loss generally means that mangroves, coral, or seagrasses are destroyed. Habitat degradation means that too much rainwater is flowing into the bay, changing its salinity, or that rainwater runoff is polluted. Although modern regulations generally prevent habitat loss, habitat degradation continues when land is developed, increasing land drainage, rainwater runoff, and pollution.
More habitat means more fish, and either we save fish habitat, and we protect clean rainwater, or we won’t have fish anymore. On Pine Island, Conservation Foundation is protecting and restoring essential habitat for fish such as snook. Our approach is twofold:
1) We will fill man-made drainage ditches in order to slow down and spread out the rainwater runoff over a large area, and
2) We will restore wetlands and uplands, increasing the land’s ability to store, filter, and slowly discharge rainwater.
Along with restoration, we will monitor mangrove creeks where juvenile snook and other fish live, in order to see if fish respond positively to the treatment. Below, researcher Michael Dickson prepares to deploy loggers that will record salinity and temperature in the mangrove creeks every ten minutes for the next two years. This information will be used to gauge the effect of restoration on the mangrove creeks, where so many important fish live.