Naples Florida - Barefoot Nature Preserve
Napels' Hidden Treasure
By: John McNamara
Barefoot Nature Preserve was an unforgettable
find. Located in wealthy Naples, Florida, this spectacular Collier
County park stands in the midst of luxurious homes. The preserve
has a little bit of everything, including a great beach, nature
path, lecture halls, educational classes, and backwater canoeing.
Our first challenge was finding
the park. It is tucked away in a residential neighborhood with a
security gate at the entrance. You could be fooled into thinking
that you shouldn’t go beyond the gates, but look more closely
and you’ll notice a small sign encouraging you to go forward
to the park. The park entrance fee is $4 per car, and well worth
Barefoot Nature Preserve is a soothing
alternative to the crowds of the mainstream beaches. The park’s
beach has several amenities, from chairs and cabanas, to kayaks
for rent. Shade is a little hard to come by on this powdery white
beach. It is suggested that you either bring your own shade or rent
it via a cabana. The day we spent at the preserve was windy and
the Gulf was rough, but this is an unusual occurrence. Ninety percent
of the time the water on the Gulf side is as flat as glass. On any
normal day here, kayaking off the beach is a superb, energizing
experience. Wild dolphins are seen often, jumping and playing in
these warm waters.
Barefoot Nature Preserve offers many
chances to learn about and appreciate nature. Walking the one-mile
nature path through the mangrove forest and tropical hammock, you
will learn about and view a bit of what this 342-acre county park
has to offer. You’ll discover its location, located on Little
Hickory Island near Bonita Springs. You can walk along the beach,
or get back on the one-mile long self-interpreted trail that gives
a good overview of the coastal habitats. You will have an opportunity
to see some wildlife at Barefoot Nature Preserve. Gopher tortoises
and their burrows are plentiful along the nature trail that runs
between the sand dunes and the hammock. This is also a good place
to see green and brown anoles and the tracks of occasional visitors
– mice, snakes, raccoons, opossums, bobcats and foxes. The
trail ends at Wiggins Pass; look for wading birds here. In the summer
along the beach, watch for crawl marks left by nesting Atlantic
loggerhead sea turtles. If you scan offshore you may catch a glimpse
of bottle-nosed dolphins. If you scan the skyline you could see
willets, sandpipers, plovers, terns, gulls, brown pelicans and ospreys.
The Barefoot Nature Preserve also
offers complimentary lectures and guided weekend trips. There are
several tours to choose from, including the Ranger Guided tour that
take you through the park, a nature walk, a shell talk, or a free
canoe trip. Call the park for more information or to schedule your
tour, 941-591-8596. If you are new to the West Coast of Florida,
shelling is a popular past time. Give it a try at Barefoot Nature
Preserve. There are hundreds of varieties of shells on the beach.
You may just get hooked once you pick up your first magnificent
Barefoot Nature Preserve
Telephone: (941) 591-8596 or (941) 498-4364
Directions from Ft. Lauderdale:
From I-75, take exit 116 (Bonita Beach Road) and go 5.6 miles to
Leley Boulevard (park entrance road). Turn left and travel Leley
Boulevard 1.7 miles through residential development to the preserve.
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