What to do in Rookery Bay Preserve on the way to Marco Island
Rookery Bay is another nature preserve near the town of Maples on the Gulf Coast that we visited on our Florida trip. It is home to one of the few intact estuaries in North America with a well-preserved mangrove forest with its own special ecosystem. In fact, where the fresh waters of rivers and streams meet the sea in warm climates, a unique habitat is formed that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a state-protected coastal habitat for many unique plant species, endangered animals, amphibians, reptiles, and over 150 species of birds that live in mangrove forests and on many barrier islands. It is adjacent to Marco Island, just outside of Naples.
Not long ago, wildlife dominated the then sparsely populated Southwest Florida. But the area has changed drastically in the past few decades as development has accelerated as more and more people have discovered this paradise and moved here to live.
And when in 1963 they wanted to build a road around Rookery Bay, the local community and private investors bought a small piece of pristine land to leave it untouched.
In the end, the road was never built, but it was the beginning of preserving the local nature for posterity. In 1980, these lands were taken under state protection and the area of the reserve was significantly expanded.
- Rookery Bay Preserve address: 300 Tower Road Naples, FL 34113 (point on map)
- Open daily from sunrise to sunset
- Cost to visit: free of charge
- Official website: rookerybay.org
Today the Rookery Bay Preserve is home to an Environmental Learning Center with laboratories and classrooms, and a Visitor Center with a large aquarium, interactive exhibit with informational and educational exhibits and nature study materials.
And here’s what to do at Rookery Bay:
- Hike the trails among the wildlife
- Watch birds and other wildlife
- Go fishing
- Take a guided boat tour
- Kayak, sea-board, or boat
- Visit one of the Keewaydin Island’s largest barrier islands
- Spend the night in nature at one of the campsites
- Go geocaching
There are also several trailheads in Rookery Bay – one very small one near the Visitor Center and three more on Shell Island Rd:
- Briggs Boardwalk (point on map)
- Shell Mound Trail.
- Monument Point Trail
We took a quick walk on Shell Island and then took a leisurely stroll along the wooden decks at Briggs Nature Center, taking in the unique nature around us.
The Briggs Boardwalk trail traverses all types of Florida landscapes, from pine forests to swamps. We saw a blue heron on it.
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