Located between Naples and Marco Island lies the 9,200-acre Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Growing up on Marco Island, I spent a few of my summer camps with the Conservancy at their Briggs Nature Center. It was one of the highlights of my summertime childhood and something I will never forget. The center had a half-mile "one way" boardwalk which meandered through oak scrubs, pine flat woods, mangrove forests and marshes. There was also an observation deck for viewing wildlife.
One afternoon on my way back from Marco Island I decided to stop by and take a look. Turns out they transformed the nature center into a center for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Thankfully you can still get full access to the boardwalk around the backside of the building.
This little sign lets visitors know which way to go.
The boardwalk is a narrow one. Which is also why its one way only.
It stats off in some scrub oaks and then progresses into the pines.
Little white fluffy plants. I forget what they are called, so if you want to let me know I would appreciate it.
Vines overgrow the foliage.
Once through the Pines you start to see the giant leather ferns and the mangrove swamp starts.
While the trail still exists, it doesn't seem to be too well kept. But to be honest, I almost prefer it this way. It's a lot closer to experiencing it rather than just walking over it.
Closeup of some ferns.
Breaking out of the overgrowth, you get your first look at the grass and mangroves.
Looking back at the boardwalk overgrowth.
A small river cuts under the boardwalk. In the dry season this river is completely gone and only sun-dried cracking mud exists.
The river seems to be a separator for the marsh on the other side. Tall blades of grass conceal animal trails made by deers, raccoons, panthers, boar and other local wildlife.
Onward, into the mangroves.
After the marsh you travel through a bit more scrub and then reach out to a large clearing.
Here is the same shot in the dry season.
The boardwalk splits off and heads up towards the observation deck.
From the top you do get a commanding view of the surrounding area. But it would be wise to bring binoculars to see all the wading birds in the distance.
Here is a view facing back down the tower. You can see the Pine forest in the horizon.
Once off the tower. The boardwalk takes you back through the mangroves.
You also get to see the same river. This time it looks more like a stagnant pool.
And as you enter back into the pines, you are greeted by the overgrowing ferns once again.
While the nature center itself is closed down, the boardwalk still remains as a prominent stop on any visitors schedule. The fact that the boardwalk can cut through so many environments so quickly is its main draw. It can be a little buggy, but it's best to visit the boardwalk in the early Summer when there are plenty of wading birds around and the water levels have risen a little. While the dry season has beautiful weather, you are not going to see much action with out the water.
This is a short boardwalk, but down the end of the shell road, lies a couple more little trails. There is also a boat ramp, so if you have a kayak or canoe, its free to launch and sets you off in the heart of Rookery Bay.