Take time to teach the kids about the birds and the trees
In our busy, mall-and-movie-theater world, it is increasingly
difficult to find opportunities to expose our kids to nature. But
it's not impossible. Florida provides many excellent and varied
natural environments to explore. Try a weekend nature tour to nearby
Naples, where although development is rapidly expanding the
population, residents approved a $100 million bond issue to buy and
protect native lands. So today's toddlers will still be able to see
what a wild forest or wetland looks like, panther babies and black
bears will have somewhere besides the zoo to live, and passing birds
will continue to roost in the treetops. Protecting the tree canopy
helps keep the land cool and the air fresh, too.
The Audubon Society recognized those values more than 40 years
ago when members bought acres of land, now called Corkscrew Swamp
Sanctuary, near Naples. Audubon has constructed a boardwalk for
visitors to learn about some 200 species of birds who pass by what
is now the largest stand of old cypress in the nation. Children and
adults can learn all about the ecosystem of the Everglades and
surrounding area in a uniquely designed video presentation before
taking the 2.5-mile walk or a shorter version of the trail.
Wheelchairs are provided for those unable to walk, and the handrail
was carefully constructed so that it does not obscure the view from
a passing chair.
Fun at the Beach (and Golf, Too)
The Ritz-Carlton Beach and
Golf Resorts -- both in Naples - offer special programs for
children. At the new golf resort, kids can golf with their parents,
or partake of special-occasion teas in the afternoons. Or they can
join the Ritz-Kids program at the beach resort.
Children visiting the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort can spend hours
watching colorful tropical fish - caught just offshore - flutter
about their wall-sized tank in the hotel nature center, where
ecologist Mark McManus conducts nature studies and tours of area
parks and beaches. Guests can follow a self-guided nature tour of
the grounds to learn more about native plants and trees. Another
great beach spot is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area.,
along the shore of the barrier island. The park offers a long row of
beach with picnic areas, showers and an observation tower. We sat on
a bench under the sea grape trees watching the sun set over the
shoreline. A bald eagle agreed that the view was good, and rested
awhile in the tall pine trees above us.
The historic Naples Municipal Pier is open around the
clock, with restaurants and bait shops open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. It's
a great place to watch the sunset or to cast a line - no need for
individual fishing licenses here.
If you'd rather fish in the deep sea, you can rent a boat or find
a fishing guide at Wiggins Pass Marina. Captain Rob Modys
specializes in offering fishing trips for kids and their parents on
his 18-foot charter. Modys will take anglers, shell seekers and
scenic routers to the barrier islands of the Gulf of Mexico
including Sanibel, Captiva and blessedly undeveloped Cayo Costa
Or, if you're comfortable behind the wheel of a boat or at the
paddles of a canoe or kayak, you can chart your own path through the
mostly peaceful waters along the southwest coastline. Those who wish
to explore the shell mounds may choose to travel with Estero Bay
Boat tours for information about the area's earliest inhabitants,
the Calusa Indians.
An airboat more your speed? Ann and Ski Olesky have offered
airboat tours of Lake Trafford since 1976. This 1,500-acre
Everglades lake is still surrounded by wilderness. The couple live
on the lake with their own reptile menagerie and exotic birds. The
tour costs $30 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and under, but Ski
Olesky says they offer half-price for "locals."
Animals Up Close
If a canoe tour through the mangroves has
more appeal, visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, where kids
get in free the first Saturday each month. The small museum and
nature center offers environmental history, workshops and classes
for those interested in learning how to protect the natural
environment. Trail hikes and boat tours introduce visitors to wild
flora and - if you're lucky - a little fauna. A gift shop provides
educational materials for later.
Feel more like a walk on the wild side? Visit Caribbean Gardens:
The Zoo in Naples. One of the best things about family-owned
Caribbean Gardens is its stance on environmental issues. Unlike some
animal showcases that seem more interested in exploiting wild
animals solely for profit, the keepers at Caribbean Gardens go to
great lengths to educate visitors about the importance of preserving
and protecting endangered species and habitats around the world.
Resources are offered throughout the Safari Canyon presentation,
encouraging guests to take information home and join the ranks who
can make a difference for the future of animals, plants, the earth
After the show a walking tour of the 52-acre garden planted in
1919 takes visitors past several outdoor enclosures, where African
wild dogs, zebras, hyenas, lions, cougars, leopards, kangaroos and
alligators live. Board the Primate Expedition Cruise on Lake
Victoria to view the island huts and habitats of a variety of
chimpanzees, monkeys and apes, living pretty much as they would in
their natural homes.
Trish Riley is a freelance writer who specializes in health
and the environment. She lives in Sunrise.