Thursday, June 8, 2017

It’s sweltering, but hit the parks for great hiking, bike rides

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 6/7/17

Dan Moser
Getting out and about for recreation and exercise during the heat of Southwest Florida’s sweltering summer can be challenging for many of us, but with thoughtful planning it’s a great time of year for outdoor activities. June has been designated as National Great Outdoors Month as a way to encourage Americans to visit national, state and local parks. We have plenty of each to choose from in our backyard.

Here’s a sampling of what’s out there.

• Our national system includes J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge ( ding_darling), known by visitors for its paved, five-mile long Wildlife Drive, three-mile natural surface Indigo Trail and other nature trails, including one to a Calusa Indian shell mound site. But the refuge is much more than what most people know as “Ding” Darling. It’s actually quite expansive and is comprised of a number of natural lands and waterbodies, making it one of the nation’s largest protected areas.

• On my personal list of best parks anywhere in Florida is Lovers Key State Park. There’s a great beach as well as many miles of nature trails on which to hike, run or even ride bikes (skinny tires won’t cut it on these trails).

• Also managed by the state, a hidden gem that’s great for hiking and running is Estero Bay Preserve State Park, with access points at the end of Winkler Road off Summerlin Road and a trailhead on Broadway West in Estero. Very near that access point is Koreshan State Historic Site.

• On Pine Island one could make a full day out of riding the island-long bike path (16 miles, one way) and hiking the trails at Calusa Heritage trail. Go to for a complete listing of state parks in Southwest Florida.

• Excellent local parks abound throughout Lee County, many of them being part of the Lee Parks and Recreation Department system (, which also includes quite a few Conservation 2020 lands ( that have had public access trails added to lands in their natural states.

The Tour de Parks Route links eight parks.
Dan Moser / Florida Weekly
• While too numerous to mention all of them, some of my favorites that offer opportunities for hiking and biking are Lakes Park in south Fort Myers; Caloosahatchee Regional Park and Hickey Creek Mitigation Park, both in Alva but on opposite sides of the Caloosahatchee River; Matanzas Pass Preserve on Fort Myers Beach; Prairie Pines Preserve in North Fort Myers; and John Yarbrough Linear Trail Park along Ten Mile Canal and the Seminole Gulf rail line. Yarbrough Trail is also the spine of the Tour de Parks route which links at least eight parks together in south-central Lee County (map can be found at and

• Other notable parks that are operated by other than Lee County government are Calusa Nature Center ( on Ortiz Avenue near Colonial; North Colonial Linear Trail and Trailhead Park (; CREW Land Trust properties ( in east Estero; and Four Mile Cove Eco Preserve in Cape Coral. Cape Coral, which doesn’t have many large parks or public greenspace other than a few private golf courses, will hopefully have that fact updated if the city purchases the long-closed golf course property in the south-central area and transforms this sprawling parcel into a park (visit for information about the efforts being undertaken to that end).

• One thing most of these parks and refuges have in common is that there are ample opportunities to get some miles in, often times under some shade. And by venturing out to our neighboring counties you’ll find many more to do the same. A few in particular make for good day trips: Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park off Burnt Store Road in southwest Punta Gorda; Collier-Seminole State Park in southeast Collier County; Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park in southwest Port Charlotte; and Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST,, a partially paved trail on top of the Hoover Dyke that will eventually be completely paved the entire 110 miles around the lake.

• For those willing to perhaps spend a night or two there are great places with miles of hiking and biking just up the coast on the Venetian Waterway Trail and Legacy Trail in Venice and Sarasota respectively; in Oscar Scherer State Park ( in Nokomis; at Fort Desoto Park south of St. Petersburg (; and on the 47-mile Pinellas Trail, which runs through many communities and environments ( north of the Skyway Bridge. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

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