Celebrating 40 Years of Land Conservation

This fall, Lee County voters will have the opportunity to tell county commissioners whether we wish to continue Conservation 20/20, a land-buying program that acquires, restores and conserves lands here. The program, created 20 years ago, is funded through a voter-approved half-mill tax that supports purchases of lands that are critical to our local water supply, flood prevention, habitat preservation and passive recreation. (That’s $5 for every $100,000 in home value.)

According to a recent story in The News-Press, the program has acquired and preserved 3449219_orignearly 25,000 acres of land in the county, including a number of properties right here on Pine Island, notably the Pineland Site Complex, the 8-plus acres where the Randell Research Center’s offices are located, and the more than 900-acre Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve, which has its trailhead at 6351 Stringfellow Road.

But did you know that Pine Island residents have been working to preserve lands and habitat and our Island way of life for much longer than 20/20 has been around? In fact, one of our leading land preservation groups, the Calusa Land Trust, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

When I came to Pine Island in the 1970s, we had a couple of county-owned parks and the county pool and tennis courts were just being built at Pine Island Center, but there weren’t many parks or trails for residents to enjoy.

That changed in 1976 when residents Fred and Diane Johnson provided land on Calusa Island. Their contribution of a 60-acre black mangrove forest and eight acres of tropical hardwood hammock led to the creation of the Calusa Land Trust. The Calusa Island Preserve was followed by the Dean Preserve on the eastern tip of Bocilla Island.

But the Calusa Land Trust really got going with acquisition of the Big Jim Creek Preserve — a 325-acre parcel that protects most of the northwest tip of Pine Island. I was pleased to donate my time as the listing and sales agent for that property (saving the Trust from paying any sales commission) to help support this acquisition and today still love taking my canoe out to paddle around in the preserve’s mangrove forest. What can I say? It’s just a super-cool place and I am truly grateful for the work that Ed Chapin, Bill Spikowski, Alison Ackerman, Rick Moore, Rad Hazen and many others have done over the years to keep the Trust growing.

Today, the Trust has 500 members and continues to work to acquire lands to protect the beauty and natural diversity that is a hallmark of this special Island. Membership dues and donations help the trust purchase lands; volunteers help to maintain the properties by removing exotic vegetation, planting native species, creating trails and more. Donations and bequests help the Trust purchase properties and they often partner with 20/20 and other groups to purchase important parcels on the Island. The lands aren’t always expensive to buy, but they can be expensive to keep up and so the willingness of the Trust to take over stewardship of properties gives added support to parcels under consideration by the 20/20 program.

According to Ed Chapin, the Trust’s Chief Land Steward and Ranger, the Trust is today the steward for 2,100 acres on the Island worth more than $3 million. (To see a map of the Island’s preserved areas, please visit the Calusa Land Trust website at calusalandtrust.org.)

To me, that just speaks volumes about the importance that many Island residents place on protecting and preserving the natural habitats of the Island and we should all celebrate the Calusa Land Trust’s 40th anniversary.

Join a Work Party

The Calusa Land Trust has work parties on the second Saturday of the month (except August). The next is scheduled for March 12. Volunteers interested in helping remove exotic vegetation will meet at 9 a.m. at the new Wigert-Barron Preserve at Barrancas and Aura Lane (near the county boat ramp). Bring your own hand tools and be sure to dress appropriately — long sleeves, long pants and closed-toed shoes are recommended. Bring water to drink and don’t forget your sunscreen and a hat. The workday lasts until about noon.

For more information, please call Ed Chapin, the Calusa Land Trust’s Chief Land Steward and Ranger, at 239-218-7531.