Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dry, cool weather perfect time to take in a hike, bike race or 5K run

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/17/18

Compared with many other parts of our state, Lee County has a very limited number of unpaved trails that most runners would consider to be long enough to get in a good run. As one would expect, summer rains reduce options even further, so between now and May is the time to get out and enjoy those we do have. While not comprehensive, following is a list of some places you can get in a run, walk or hike among nature as well as a few organized events.

¦ Estero Bay Preserve State Park ( has two locations from which to access miles of trails, one off West Broadway in Estero and the other at the end of Winkler Road in south Fort Myers. It’s quite a unique environment with 16 miles of trails that meander through pine flatwoods, mangroves and tidal salt flats leading to the Estero River. Some trails are completely submerged parts of the year so the best times to visit are typically now through May.
Estero Bay Preserve, Hiking Trail Along Salt Flats (

¦ Lovers Key State Park ( offers the best of all worlds, with a top-notch beach and a seven-mile long network of outstanding trails. It’s located on the causeway between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach.

Billy Creek Preserve (
¦ Lee County’s 2020 Program includes a number of preserves and conservation properties that offer miles of trails. Some of them are Prairie Pines Preserve and Pop Ash Creek Preserve in North Fort Myers, Hickey Creek Mitigation Park in Alva, Matanzas Pass Preserve on Fort Myers Beach, and many others. You’ll find a complete list with details of each at

¦ Lee County Parks & Rec ( also manages more traditional parks that include those with running and hiking opportunities. One of the best is Alva’s Caloosahatchee Regional Park which is home to over five miles of beautiful trails on the riverside of the park that are open to foot traffic only and over 15 miles of bike and horse trails across North River Road that are also open to runners and hikers. When running or hiking on the latter, always keep in mind their primary uses.

Here are some organized trail running events (walkers welcome in most).

¦ Saturday, Jan. 20, is a first-time event that trail running enthusiasts will enjoy while also learning about a hidden gem of a place and a proposed project to make that place more accessible. The Wings over Water Festival 5K ( is intended to provide the public with an opportunity to see what Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres has to offer.

Lehigh Acres Trailhead Park (Lee County Parks & Rec)
The 5K run and walk is also being touted as the reincarnation of one of our area’s oldest races that had been part of the Lehigh Spring Fest for over 40 years. The corresponding project mentioned is a trail proposed by FDOT that will connect Lehigh Acres Trailhead Park to Lehigh Acres Community Park and Harns Marsh, allowing residents and visitors to bike or walk between these popular destinations. This 5.5 mile paved shared-use pathway would be a natural extension of what’s been envisioned since Lee County Parks and Recreation Department purchased an abandoned golf course and turned it into Lehigh Acres Trailhead Park, which opened almost five years ago.

Trailhead Park currently includes a halfmile paved shared-use pathway that encircles a three-acre replicated prairie which will function as the literal trailhead for a greenway corridor along Able Canal, with the first section of the greenway to connect Lehigh Acres Trailhead Park to Lehigh Acres Community Park and Harns Marsh.

¦ Saturday, Jan. 27, the annual Calusa Bug Chase 5K ( takes place at the Calusa Nature Center. While not completely on unpaved surfaces, it’s still a good opportunity to experience what the Nature Center has to offer.

¦ Rescheduled to March 4 from its usual January date due to Hurricane Irma, the best trail run anywhere in Florida (at least in my opinion) takes place within Caloosahatchee Regional Park. River, Roots and Ruts Half Marathon includes the very challenging mountain bike trails while the 5K stays on the more friendly paths on the river side of the park (

¦ On May 12, Lovers Key State Park (previously mentioned) is the venue for Turtle Trot 5K. Info can be found at and

¦ Summer brings the annual 3D Cross Country 5K. This Estero race has become a popular tradition that usually occurs on the first Saturday of September (

¦ Finally, a reminder to both runners and cyclists that the Tour de Cape ( takes place with a 5K run on Saturday, Jan. 20, and supported bike rides of distances from 15 to 100 miles happening on Sunday, Jan. 21.

For more about these places, events, and other matters that affect all of us who venture outdoors for transportation, fitness and fun be sure to check out BikeWalkLee at

- 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. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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