The new observation bridge, half-mile “Snail Trail” and viewing platform are now open to visitors during ELC hours. Guided tours/Nature Walks are scheduled several days a week.
The immerse experience begins on the mezzanine of the exhibit hall’s second floor. 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.
A ½-mile walking trail with surface suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, the snail trail invites visitors to explore the mysteries of mangroves and pine flatwoods. The 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. Two more half-mile, unsurfaced trails connect to the Snail Trail for the more "adventurous" explorers.
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 trail winds past an old homestead dating back to post-Civil War times when squatters began to farm this rugged terrain. Evidence of their existence includes a primitive swale system designed to drain the land during driving summer rains, some sanseveria (an ornamental plant commonly associated with early homesteads) and a cement rainwater storage cistern, still intact. The cistern 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.
A wonderful bonus along this trail is a narrow boardwalk leading from the trail across the mangrove-fringed creek bank and out over the water. From there it is even easier to see what lurks in the waters below, from mullet to sheepshead to tarpon. Along the water’s edge, herons and egrets stand sentinel, waiting to grab their next meal.
The mysterious world of old Florida beckons you to explore. The trail is open to Environmental Learning Center visitors for self guided tours and guided experiences are scheduled weekly. Bring a camera, and shoes that can get wet, as the trail is likely to be soggy during wet summer months.
CLICK HERE for Snail Trail map with primitive trail loops
CLICK HERE for printable coupon for admission to Learning Center.