Fishing has always been an important part of Gasparilla Island's cultural history. The Calusa tribe likely fished area waters for a living. In the 1700s, Spanish fishermen arrived and established camps along the shore where fish were shipped to Cuba. In the 1800s, American settlers were attracted to Charlotte Harbor by its rich bounty of sea life. By the 1900s, Gasparilla Island was seasonal host to many prominent sport anglers who fished for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass which became known as the Tarpon Capital of the World. The oldest structure on the island and one of the oldest in Lee County is the Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890 and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1966. After 20 years of abandonment, and a major renovation, the lighthouse was rededicated in 1986 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The state assumed ownership of the property opening it to the public as a state park in 1983.
The picnic pavilions at the Rear Range Light Parking Area are a perfect place to enjoy a picnic or barbecue with family and friends. The pavilions provide a shady area while still offering a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico and of the Rear Range Lighthouse. This beach area features restrooms, showers, grills and shaded pavilions with picnic tables.
Birds flock to Gasparilla Island State Park. Ospreys, known as fish hawks, are abundant in coastal areas. When they catch a fish, they will turn their legs parallel with their bodies to fly with less wind resistance. At Gasparilla Island State Park, birders can hear their sharp whistles and cries as they fly overhead. Other birds that are often spotted include pelicans, ring-billed gulls, royal terns, least terns, great blue herons, magnificient frigate birds, white ibis, cardinals, palm warblers and, more rarely, the American kestrel. It's a birder's paradise.
Volunteers at Gasparilla Island State Park help out in many ways. They help decorate the lighthouse for the holiday season, serve as docents in the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, help maintain park facilities, participate in sea turtle monitoring, assist with removing invasive exotic plants and more.
Sunsets are like fingerprints - one-of-a-kind. There are many opportunities to view amazing sunsets at Gasparilla Island State Park. Whether it's a cloudy afternoon with the sun just peeking through or a day where the sun appears to simply melt into the water, watching a sunset at the park is a perfect way to end a beautiful day.
At the very end of Gasparilla Island State Park is the well-known Boca Grande Pass. It is one of the deepest natural passes on the west coast of Florida, more than 80 feet deep, and it offers amazing fishing from land or boat. In the past it was the site of the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament. Today, tarpon tournaments still take place every year, drawing large crowds in the summer time. If searching for shells is your favorite pastime, you will find the beaches to be treasure troves. Also, don't forget to stop by the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse for a tour of the museum and Visitor Center.