Collier and Lee Counties Edition

Walk, Kayak or Run

on Southwest Florida’s Wild Side

Erik Weihenmayer, author of No Barriers, is totally blind, yet has climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents, saying,

Erik Weihenmayer, author of No Barriers, is totally blind, yet has climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents, saying, "Don, I can hear the alligator breathing!"

photo by Don McCumber

Fifty-four percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and rarely experiences nature directly. This statistic, which is expected to increase by 66 percent by 2050, points to a potential problem—urban dwelling could be detrimental to our mental health.

Science has proven that people that spend a lot of time in nature are generally healthier and experience positive perks such as improved short-term memory, restored mental energy, stress reduction, improved concentration, sharper thinking and creativity, and improved mental health overall. Our brain naturally syncs with nature, which in turn creates wonderful benefits such as those enjoyed by local residents Don McCumber and Anne Reed.

For 25 years peace of mind and a sense of well-being have been the side effects that McCumber has experienced while kayaking in Florida’s wild places. A certified Florida coastal master naturalist and member of the Paradise Coast Paddler’s Club, he is a guide for Everglades Area Tours, which provides education-based guided boating, kayaking and walking trips that depart from Everglades City, Chokoloskee, Isle of Capri and Marco Island. Pine Island.

“Woodkayaker” has plenty of stories to spin about tours he has led for newbie and seasoned kayakers. These include how surprisingly gentle mamma alligators are with their babies and how he captained a team of local kayakers that paddled alongside Diana Nyad, a 64-year old endurance swimmer who completed a historic Cuba-to-Florida 110-mile, 53-hour swim in 2013.

McCumber’s ability to bring Florida’s unique ecosystem to life can only be acquired from years of experience and intimate encounters. He names the vegetation, reptiles and orchids of every season, as well as the wood storks, cormorants, roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, egrets and other birds for his charges as they paddle through mangrove tunnels and sawgrass marsh on the Turner River Kayak Trail, in the Big Cypress Preserve.

“People are amazed to get so close to nature and observe the natural behavior of our wildlife. Last spring, I took a video of a male alligator making an amorous pass at a female. He circled around her several times, swam up behind her, raised his right front leg, spread his claw like fingers and stroked her back. Then the two swam off together. It was a tender moment that few humans get to observe,” says McCumber, who has also kayaked in Canada, Yellowstone National Park, areas of Maine and Ecuador.

Reed is the Communications Strategist for CREW Land & Water Trust, a nonprofit organization coordinating land acquisition, land management and public use of the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The CREW project spans the Corkscrew Marsh, Bird Rookery Swamp, Flint Pen Strand, Camp Keais Strand and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary; all wild places with trails where Reed and her three daughters—14, 9 and 7—enjoy hiking, biking and running.

Reed and her daughters, native Ohioans, find comfort in exploring CREW’s marsh hiking trails, cypress dome trails and bird rookery swamp trails with volunteers. “We are all outdoor enthusiasts, and were familiar with the wildlife in Ohio and northern Michigan, but we didn’t have snakes or alligators. Florida’s wildlife felt dangerous to us until we learned about native reptilian, avian and mammalian species from volunteers leading field trips. We lost our fear, gained respect and experienced a twinge of nostalgia for home when we saw unexpected red maple trees,” recalls Reed.

No boardwalk exists on the 13-mile loop of CREW’s bird rookery swamp trail. “Visitors are likely to see an alligator crossing their path while they are busy looking at wildflowers, butterflies, otters, red shouldered hawks and wading birds such as the stately great egrets and snowy egrets, as well as limpkins feeding on apple snails,” says Reed.

CREW trails are designated multi-use, but require special use permits for horseback riding or primitive camping. Solar powered talking tail posts educate trail-goers about observing safety rules. Geocaching on part of CREW property allows visitors to participate in the recreational activity of hunting for and finding hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website.

To continue enjoying Florida’s wild places by kayak, bike, on foot or in a tent means taking action to protect the 2 million-acre wetland ecosystem of the Everglades that extends from central Florida to the southern end of the Florida mainland and the Florida Keys. Sign the “Now or Neverglades” declaration (GladesDeclaration.org) to support the 200-plus respected Everglades scientists that believe increased storage, treatment and conveyance of water south of Lake Okeechobee is essential to stop the damaging discharges to coastal estuaries, restore the flow of clean, fresh water to Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys, improve the health of Lake Okeechobee and protect the drinking water for 8 million Floridians living in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

For more information, email NowOrNever@GladesDeclaration.org. For more information on CREW and Everglades Area Tours, visit CrewTrust.org and EvergladesAreaTours.com.

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