Thursday, January 27, 2022

Rookery Bay Celebrates 40 Years

am one of many who move to Southwest Florida, drawn in by the beauty of the weather, water, beaches, sunsets, and lifestyle.

What a few of us reluctantly admit is that something bewildering happens once becoming a full-time resident. Real life, the daily grind, and commitments get in the way of what drew us here in the first place. For me, my visits to the beach became infrequent, which at one time I enjoyed daily. Sadly now, my pool gets more activity with regular cleaning rather than regular use.

As for my list of must-see local attractions, well, it has remained unchecked; that is, unless I’m entertaining houseguests.

Embarrassingly, Rookery Bay had remained unchecked on my list. Yes, I had heard interesting talks from their featured speakers, had planned on signing up for their Lunch & Learn series, and was particularly interested in their kayak tours; however, of all the trips I’ve made up and down 951, I had never stopped in… that is, until National Estuaries Day, when Rookery Bay celebrated their 40th year.

All 29 National Estuarine Research Reserves offer free admission to the public to raise awareness and education on National Estuaries Day, an annual event that occurs on the last Saturday of September. Rookery Bay marked the momentous occasion with a free, daylong celebration which included free boat rides, kayak tours, junior science labs, standup paddle board demos, music, food trucks, and a sneak peek of a PBS documentary by Elam Stolzfus and Live Oak Production Group about the history of Rookery Bay.

To think, it all began 40 years ago when a developer wanted to build a Bridge to Nowhere. These plans to build a bridge to Keewaydin Island, sparked an outcry in the Collier County community. An outcry which led to a petition of 2,000 signatures and a student fundraiser collecting pennies and nickels to purchase the original land.

“Three thousand students from 1968-1971 participated in the Pennies for Preservation campaign to save Rookery Bay. They purchased 1,600 acres of land and stopped the proposed Bridge to Nowhere,” explained Athan Barkoukis, Executive Director of the Friends of Rookery Bay.

Today’s Rookery Bay encompasses 110,000 acres and covers 40% of Collier County’s shoreline, from Gordon Pass to Everglades National Park. Rookery Bay provides conservation, protection, exploration, education, research, and serves as a living laboratory.

“When I was hearing and remembering the bridge to nowhere controversy from the early ‘70s, I thought gee this sounds like today. With roadways being built into areas that will forever change our environment. We stopped it once, and I hope we can do it again,” explains Barbara Meek, original Penny Saver and lifelong Naples resident, regarding the upcoming sales tax increase proposal in the upcoming election.

“Rookery Bay is yours to explore and enjoy, much of which has been untouched. A trip to the 10,000 Islands is like going back in time. You will see possibly what Ponce de Leon saw. It’s a really special place…unaltered and amazing. We do a lot of work to make sure this land is protected forever,” says Rookery Bay Director Keith Laakkonen.

The PBS documentary from award-winning filmmaker Elam Stolzfus will debut statewide on Earth Day 2019 (April 22). The documentary features the music of J. Robert Houghtaling. This year’s Earth Day theme is Protect Our Species.

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