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The Estero River, a tidally influenced tributary within the park, is pictured here sporting a large growth of black needle rush. Park wetlands, shown with a growth of spike rush and mangrove, protect water quality and support a variety of plant and animal species. Hikers stop to look for birds along one of the trails. Estero Bay Preserve offers wonderful opportunities for bird watching. Two bird visitors look out over the salt marsh at one of the two observation platforms.
Estero Bay Preserve State Park
Tributaries lead to wetlands in this photo of Estero Bay Preserve. The Preserve encompasses more than 10,000 acres of land bordering the Estero Bay.

History and Culture

This land was acquired to buffer the Estero Bay from encroaching development in the watershed. The preservation and protection of Estero Bay's water quality is a primary focus in managing the preserve.

Prescribed fire, such as the one shown here, is an essential component of the health of many of Florida¿s natural communities.

Prescribed Burn

Prescribed burning is essential in maintaining many of Florida¿s natural areas. Here, a firefighter applies fire to a pine flatwoods natural community. Pine flatwoods, found throughout Florida, are composed of saw palmetto and pine trees. These areas typically burn frequently - a natural process that opens the habitat for wildlife and allows plants to seed. Plants found in these natural communities are adapted to fire and depend on it for survival and reproduction. Preventing fires in natural areas allows for a build up of natural fuels such as dead wood and leaves. This build up of fuel over time creates a recipe for disaster with habitat becoming overgrown losing both plant and animal diversity. In time, with the accumulation of fuel, the area is much more prone to wildfire, which will burn under extreme conditions and kill even fire-tolerant plants. Estero Bay Preserve State Park has a long history of fire suppression. It is important to restore and reintroduce the essential natural component of fire into these ecosystems.

A park worker helps remove invasive plants that have made themselves at home at Estero Bay Preserve.

Invasive Plants

Southwest Florida is under siege from hundreds of invasive plant species. These plants were either accidentally released or introduced without the knowledge of their being invasive. A plant is considered non-native if it was introduced after the point of Spanish occupation in the 1500s. Not all non-native plants are invasive. An invasive plant is one that has no natural enemies, has a high rate of spread and rapid potential for growth. Some of the worst invasive non-native plant problems that affect Estero Bay Preserve State Park include melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, old world climbing fern and downy rose myrtle. Staff, with the help of state and federally-funded contractors, have been working intensively to control these species since 1998. Although much progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. The combination of mechanical treatment, herbicide application, biological control agents and prescribed fire have all been part of the fight in eradicating these noxious weeds.

Two hikers head down one of the trails at Estero Bay Preserve. With more than 12 miles of marked trails, there is always plenty to see.

Hiking

The Estero Bay Preserve State Park has two trail systems: the Estero River Scrub in Estero and Winkler Point in Fort Myers. The Estero River Scrub system offers more than eight miles of marked trail and a great place to hike or ride an off-road bicycle. These trails cover a variety of habitat including flatwoods, salt flats and mangroves. One trail leads to a scenic viewpoint at the Estero River. The Winkler Point trails offer more than four miles of marked trails leading you through flatwoods, tidal marshes, mangroves and salt flats. There are two observation platforms along the trails that overlook ephemeral ponds. It is important to note that many of the trails at the Estero Bay Preserve State Park often remain flooded through the summer and fall months.

This bald eagle perches high in a tree. Estero Bay Preserve is well known for its diverse wildlife, including  nesting bald eagles.

Bald Eagle

There is a diverse array of wildlife to be observed at Estero Bay Preserve. One of the most popular and asked-about species is the bald eagle. Since 2003, the Preserve has seen an average of five bald eagle chicks fledge from the nest each year from an average of four nests. Sharp-eyed visitors will likely spot a bald eagle while hiking the trails.

Estero Bay Preserve consists of more than 10,000 acres. This aerial photo shows the wetlands that make up most of this continuous property.

2004 Aerial

Estero Bay Preserve State Park consists of more than 10,000 acres throughout southwestern Lee County. Much of this continuous property is wetlands and also includes the majority of mangrove islands within Estero Bay. Although much of the property outside the Preserve boundary is developed, undeveloped parcels are still being examined for acquisition and conservation. The main purpose of this preserve is to prevent development directly on the sensitive estuarine waters of Estero Bay and its tributaries. This conservation land helps to protect the water quality in Estero Bay and, therefore, the wildlife that depends on the water to survive. It also allows for a beautiful, healthy environment that future generations can enjoy.