Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is a 16,500 ft environmentally-friendly educational, research and training facility with research laboratories, classrooms, a 140-seat auditorium, and two-story visitor center. The visitor center offers a variety of hands-on experiences for all ages, including interactive exhibits, an art gallery, nature trails, and picnic areas.
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Hours of Operation

Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 4 pm
Sunday: Closed
Address: 300 Tower Road, Naples, FL 34113

Dogs are not allowed in the building or on the nature trails.

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General Admission

Adults: $5
Children Ages 6-12: $3
Children Under 6: FREE
Friends of Rookery Bay members: FREE
Association of Nature Center Administrators Reciprocal Program Members: FREE
Blue Star Museum Program: Military personnel and family (up to four) FREE from Memorial Day through Labor Day

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Groups and Private Tours

Enjoy a personal tour led by a volunteer or staff interpreter. Neighborhood communities, scouts and camps are welcome to visit as groups, with advance notice. If you would like a private tour or your group consists of ten people or more, contact the Visitor Services Department for more information.

SO MUCH TO DISCOVER AND EXPLORE

Cultural Richness Exhibit at Rookery Bay | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Cultural Richness

Cultural exhibits on the second floor of the Environmental Learning Center showcase 3,000 years of human use in the estuary. A large topographic map on the wall depicts prehistoric and historic sites, a storytelling booth recounts memories of pioneer settlers, and a tribute to the Children’s Column on Henderson Creek tells the story of how Rookery Bay was saved from development in the 1960’s.

There’s even a “Today and the Future” area that provides an overview of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and sea level rise, and how they might affect various forms of life in southwest Florida. The exhibits include an interactive guessing game dispelling myths about climate change, a touchscreen carbon calculator which gives people an opportunity to see how their personal choices measure up on an international standard, and a demonstration of ways people can make a difference in their homes and daily lives.

Mangrove Aquarium

Large windows in the Reserve’s laboratories allow visitors to observe ongoing research. A monitor displays film footage of local and visiting scientists conducting marine research on the water. In the theater, a 10-minute documentary film produced by award-winning filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus, highlights the beauty of the Rookery Bay Research Reserve.

In the 2,300-gallon mangrove aquarium centerpiece, a 14-foot sculpted tree soars up through an open atrium into the Center’s second story. A climb-in “bubble” provides visitors with close-up views of mangrove prop roots that provide shelter for fish inhabitants. Interactive and hands-on exhibits provide opportunities for visitors of all ages to explore and expand upon their knowledge of Florida’s estuaries.

Mangrove Aquarium at Rookery Bay | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Estuary Encounter Touch Tank at Rookery Bay Research Reserve | National Estuarine Research Reserve

Estuary Encounter Touch Tank

Our 180-gallon Marine Life Exhibit is designed to look and feel like Rookery Bay Research Reserve’s natural environment with detailed rock formations and a mangrove-themed overflow box. In addition to self-guided engagement with these animals, docent-led programs will also be scheduled throughout the day.

The “Estuary Encounter” exhibit houses more than a dozen species of marine animals for guests of all ages to discover during regular visiting hours. Observe and interact with a pygmy sea cucumber, horseshoe crab or lightning whelk.

Art Gallery

The art gallery hosts several exhibitions each year. A partnership with the United Arts Council of Collier County enables annual exhibitions of painting and photography juried by local art experts while other showings feature works by local students, Rookery Bay Reserve friends & family, and occasionally individuals. Most of the works are available for purchase.

Current Exhibit: Art of the Holocene on display August 13 - October 31

Four female artists inspired by colors found in nature explore the Holocene Epoch current geologic period in various media in this juried exhibition.

Created Exclusively for the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

The exhibit hall is graced by a 120-foot long habitat frieze called “The Continuum of Life” by local artist Kathy Spalding, who painted 30 individual prints and stitched them all together to illustrate the connections between habitats from uplands out to the Gulf of Mexico. Prints and notecards are available for purchase in the store. Above the stairs, visitors can enjoy Gaskin 8, a 22-foot tall framed photograph donated by renowned black-and-white landscape photographer Clyde Butcher.

Kathy Spalding’s 70-foot Continuum of Life watercolor, executed as a 124 foot original at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a vivid portrait of the wildlife that is one of Southwest Florida’s greatest treasures. Beginning in the skies of the Gulf to Keewaydin’s barrier island, it flows – like nature itself – across the sand, into the shallows around red mangroves creeping into the mudflats and finally up to the high lands and swamps. All along the way are the birds, fish, plants and animals that create a living symphony here.

Observation Bridge at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Observation Bridge

The Observation Bridge transports pedestrians across the creek with educational signs luring visitors to explore their surroundings, such as looking down at the water passing under the bridge to see which way it is flowing. Salinity is the name of the game here, and summer rains across the watershed fill the creek with rushing waters, diluting the salinity and triggering creatures of the estuary to reproduce. From the bridge it’s possible to see manatees, tarpon, and even sharks when conditions are right.

As the bridge begins to slope down to meet the ground, visitors experience a brief trek through tangled mangroves, palms and oaks. Resurrection ferns, bromeliads, and even orchids can be seen growing along the furrowed cracks of oak tree bark. Looking up it is easy to see the pockmarks of pileated woodpeckers and other insectivores in the upper reaches of expired pine snags.

Nature Trails

Along the Snail Trail it is easy to forget you’re less than ten miles away from the city limits of both Naples and Marco Island.  The Snail Trail encourages explorers to use all their senses to connect intimately with the natural world, meandering slowly like a snail, and includes a boardwalk/viewing platform at the water’s edge. Visitors can take the ½-mile walking trail with a surface suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, or two more ½-mile, unsurfaced trails for the more “adventurous” explorers.  What you’ll see:

  • An old homestead dating back to post-Civil War times when squatters began to farm this rugged terrain.
  • A primitive swale system designed to drain the land during driving summer rains
  • Sanseveria (an ornamental plant commonly associated with early homesteads)
  • A cement rainwater storage cistern that collected rainwater running off the old home’s roof and stored it through the dry winter months, when it could be used for cooking and watering livestock.

Nature Trails at Rookery Bay | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Picnic Areas at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Picnic Area

Take in nature and views of Henderson Creek while enjoying lunch or a snack in the shade on our back patio or under the Chickee Hut. Snacks are available for purchase in the Nature Store.

Rookery Bay Nature Store

Welcome to the Rookery Bay Nature Store, where every purchase supports Friends of Rookery Bay and its mission to provide resources for Rookery Bay Research Reserve’s education, research and conservation programs. Here you’ll find an assortment of wonderful gifts to purchase for your family or maybe bring back a souvenir for yourself.

Nature Store Hours

Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 4 pm
Sunday: Closed

Facilities Rentals at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Facility Rentals

We can accommodate day or evening functions for meetings, workshops, seminars, birthday parties, and gatherings. Catering can be supplied from outside vendors and our picnic area offers a delightful space for a relaxed lunch, cocktail party, or formal dinner.

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