Estero Bay Park Preserve State Park is the first aquatic preserve established in Florida along one of the most productive estuaries in the state. The preserve protects about 10 miles of Estero Bay and offers over ten miles of trails suitable for hiking and biking. It is a great place to take a stroll and take in the variety of wildlife and native vegetation found in this preserve. There was no fee to enter this preserve.
The only public entrance to the park is a bit tricky to find but if you can find Broadway off off Highway 41 (Tamiami Road) then turn west and drive nearly to the end of the road where you will see a Florida Power & Light substation. The entrance is just past it.
While looking for the park we were treated to the sighting of beautiful mature bald eagle soaring overhead. And just as we entered the preserve there was a nesting pair of gopher tortoises and one of their offspring was out and about. The vegetation of the uplands was mostly slash pines and live oaks which give way to the mangroves of the wetlands.
At the border between the wetlands and the uplands there is a swatch of land where many trees have died yet are still standing majestically in final defiance. These trees probably died due to salt water intrusion during one of the recent hurricanes that hit the Fort Myers area a few years ago.
While the preserve is a great place for hiking and biking Manatee Park is a great place to see the manatees up close, especially just after a cold snap. There is a three dollar per car fee to park at the park but this nominal fee is well worth it for the opportunity to see hundreds of manatees lounging around in the power plant warmed discharge waters.
At birth manatees weigh about 60-80 pounds but the adult manatee weighs nearly a half ton and is about 10 feet long. They are plant eating mammals that must surface to breathe air every three to five minutes. Manatees can live to be up to 60 years old.
Many think they are in the same family as the elephants however they are believed to have evolved from a wading, plant-eating animal. They are related to the elephant and the hyrax (a small, gopher-sized mammal). Manatees live in both fresh and salt water as their kidneys can filter their blood to control levels of salt and to maintain water balance.
It is fun to sit and just watch the manatees slowly swimming around the warm waters. They have very small brains which is obvious once you see the small heads as compared to their large roundish bodies. They give off a bit of an orangish hue in these waters and Sharon thought they looked like a bunch of sweet potatoes in the water…
If in the North Fort Myers area these are two nice day trips worth your effort…