By Gary Mooney — firstname.lastname@example.org
In our uncertain COVID-19 world, the Historic Mound House on Fort Myers Beach offers a twice-weekly free outdoor nature program that is different every single time! For an outdoor outlet every Tuesday and Thursday morning all year long, head mid-island to Newton Beach Park and attend the “Guided Beach Walks,” weather permitting, at 9 a.m. Know up front that everyone MUST bring their own face mask and WEAR IT!
“Guided Beach Walks” have a simple premise – the groups walk roughly a half-mile down the beach and back, discussing whatever you find that particular morning, so no two are ever the same, with the wind and waves dictating what comes up each day. On a recent “Guided Beach Walk,” our guide was the smart and effervescent Katy Beth Culp, Mound House Educator.
No sooner do we step off the small seawall do we discover our first natural treasure; the highest of that morning’s four beach wracklines. “While the first impression of the wrackline for many people is they don’t like it, as it can be unsightly, it is full of essential beach nutrients,” Katy Beth related. “It has plenty of food for birds and other varieties of beach life, and helps form dunes that protect the beach from storm damage. Don’t worry; the wracklines are not toxic or unhealthy at all, though in large quantities, they can smell really bad!”
Katy Beth displayed a Red Mangrove propagule she called “a Mangrove starter kit! While technically a ‘seed,’ it is much more complicated than that. They are fully mature plants in their own right that drop off the parent tree, then can bob up-&-down in the water for over a year, until finding something on-shore to attach to and grow.” Just a few steps later, we discovered a perfectly-formed Ghost crab hole. “That is so cool,” Katy Beth enthused! “That is nice and fresh, and when you look close, you see the Ghost crab tracks marching off toward the Gulf!”
JINGLE BELLS & TURTLE NESTS
She picked up an excellent example of a Jingle shell, known as “a mermaid’s toenail” that a mollusk snail lived in at one time. “When you get several together inside your closed fist and shake, they sound just like ‘Jingle Bells’ or money in your pocket!” Another exciting sight were six different sea turtle nests all within the Newton Beach Park vicinity, though “Turtle Time” volunteers mark them off with caution tape and signage so people will not interrupt their nesting and egg maturation.
Other “Guided Beach Walk” finds include parchment worm tubes; Calico crabs; Sea Pork that can be green, grey, pink, or white; Florida fighting conch shells; giant Heart cockle; several different Pen shells; thousands of snail shells all over the beach; Blood Ark shells that the Calusa Indians used to weigh down their fishing nets; and shipworms that get their name from sticking to wooden ship hulls to eat them away.
Katy Beth is outgoing, fun, intelligent and bubbly – even wearing a mask, you can practically see her beaming smile! “On ‘Guided Beach Walks,’ I get excited when people get excited about what we find, and usually every single thing we find excites someone! The more you know about nature and the clues she provides, the more you can interpret every other aspect of life. Pay close attention as you walk the beach or you will miss so many essentials, because if you overlook them, you cannot appreciate them!”
Newton Beach Park is the site of the former 1953 Seven Seas Cottage of Jim and Ellie Newton. Jim (1905-1999) gained notoriety through his book, “Uncommon Friends,” detailing his personal relationships with key 20th Century figures such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Charles Lindbergh, and Dr. Alexis Carrel. Due to its significant history, Fort Myers Beach secured it in 2003 and it became the first Town-owned public park in 2010. In addition to the Seven Seas Cottage and beach frontage, it has two tiki huts, paid parking, nature and educational programs, recreational opportunities, and historic and environmental signage, among other amenities.
The free “Guided Beach Walk” at Newton Beach Park, located mid-island at 4650 Estero Boulevard, is every Tuesday and Thursday year-round, weather permitting, at 9 a.m. Meet at the thatched hut closest to the beach, with face masks MANDATORY. “Guided Beach Walks” are leisurely strolls of roughly a half-mile, so if you are looking for a rapid pace or to bulk up your daily step count, this is not for you! In addition to your face mask, bring sunscreen, shoes to get wet, sunglasses, and hat if necessary. While free, parking is $3-per-hour, with one hour being enough. No reservations necessary; for details call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.