Attention: Aquaholics are welcomed in Engleweood, Fla. In a course of week, rather than blogging, I’ve been splashing in my Southwest Florida backyard, engaged in the activities of wading, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, snorkeling, boating and beachcombing. Since Englewood and Manasota Key sit on the Gulf of Mexico and the neighboring communities of Cape Haze and Placida have access to water, all sorts of marine-related activities are accessible. If you find yourself here, don’t forget to use #LoveFL when sharing your experience on social media.
Okay, I confess, if it wasn’t for my day job, I probably wouldn’t have done all of these things in a week. It was a reminder of how visitors save their money, use their precious vacation time and oftentimes, travel thousands of miles just to enjoy this natural paradise I can access daily.
Here’s a slice of each aquatic activity I jumped into –
Wading Trip with the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center
With summer around the corner and warmer temperatures heating up Southwest Florida, I love the wading trips offered by the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. It’s a great way to cool off while learning about the sea life living in either Charlotte Harbor or Lemon Bay. Armed with a dip net and a bucket, you wade in water anywhere from knee- to waist-deep and can scoop up creatures that call the area home, such as lightning whelk, fish, shrimp, sponges and occasionally, seahorses and pipefish. I took a trip from CHEC’s Cedar Point Center in Englewood. Trips are also offered in Punta Gorda at Ponce de Leon Park. Wading trips are free and visit the CHEC website to learn more and view the activity schedule.
Disclaimer: I serve on the board of directors for CHEC.
Boating to Don Pedro Island State Park
Don Pedro Island State Park is only accessible by boat and if you don’t own one or have a friend who will take you out there, alternatives are available. Members of the Freedom Boat Club can pick up a boat from the Cape Haze Marina and chug on over to the park. If you’re not a member, a passenger ferry is offered by Captiva Cruises. Or, there’s my preferred method of paddling a kayak. Several operators are in the area and I’ve gone with Phoenix Rising Kayak Tours.
Once at the park, there’s a covered pavilion, outdoor shower, restrooms, nature trails and a fantastic, natural strip of beach.
(Sidebar: I’m not a member of the Freedom Boat Club but think of it as a timeshare for boats, you pay a monthly fee and can take a boat out every day while someone else is responsible for the maintenance, insurance, cleaning, etc. Having been a boat owner, I can say there’s truth in the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life – the day they purchase the boat and the day they sell it.)
Beachcombing Stump Pass Beach State Park and Englewood Beach
Once at Don Pedro Island SP, I walked along the surf scooping up fossilized shark teeth, enjoying the solitude of lapping waves and soaking up the sunshine. I also did the same at Stump Pass Beach State Park and Englewood Beach, both located on Manasota Key. I love walking down to the tip of Stump Pass Beach SP because I’m obsessed with bleached out tree stumps and shell trees. These shell trees are also found on Don Pedro Island SP and the Stump Pass Beach at Palm Island Resort. Local legend states if you find a seashell with hole in it, make a wish and place that shell on a tree, your wish will come true.
Kayaking with SUP Englewood
Speaking of Stump Pass Beach State Park, the outfitter SUP Englewood, rents kayaks and standup paddleboards and also offers guided ecotours. Ms. Nicole Miers-Pandolfi, owner of SUP Englewood, led me and a couple of others on an eco-tour where we got up close with sea urchins and sea stars. We paddled to the end of the park to a sandbar where the water was a sparkling, aqua-blue.
A couple pulled up and anchored their boat and let their two dogs splash in the warm water. A few other boats anchored, including one named “Aquaholic” which was waving a black and white skull and cross bones flag.
Rather than paddle our kayaks, we got out and walked in the soft sand while pulling our boats around another key (island) to paddle back to the park. Along the way, a dolphin surfaced a few times and it seemed to respond to Nicole’s voice.
Glow in the Dark Standup Paddle Boarding
I’ve only paddled a standup paddle board once, several years ago when they were first introduced into Charlotte County and I can’t say I enjoyed it. I suppose it’s because I was so afraid of falling off (not sure why, the water is so shallow and if you stand up, you’ll be okay) that my feet hurt. They ached from gripping for dear life.
This go around, Ms. Paige Bakhaus, owner of Hooked on SUP, made sure everyone on the tour was comfortable on a board before departing Cape Haze Marina on a sunset adventure and glow in the dark paddle. She makes it look so easy and when following her instructions, it really is! I’m so happy – and amazed – I didn’t fall off!
Boards are equipped with lights and I couldn’t really see them until the sun began to set. I was wowed when I saw the sea floor lit up spotlighting sea life as sea stars, sea grasses, crabs and lightning whelk.
Paige stopped the group near a sandbar so we could take a closer look and learn more about what we were seeing. Behind us on the sandbar, birds foraged for dinner and it was a peaceful, Zen feeling being on the water with a star-studded sky above.
Snorkeling Gasparilla Sound
Snorkeling is a relatively new activity for me. I’ve done it a couple of times up in Crystal River when snorkeling for scallops and one other time with the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves. Have to say, it can be addictive!
CHAP is a division of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and through grants they are offering free snorkeling trips in May, June and July 2015. This two-hour trip departed Gasparilla Marina to a site near an old railroad trestle in Gasparilla Sound. Once in the water, a CHAP agent described some of the sea life we saw.
I was fascinated with the sea urchins. I’ve seen them several times but I watched as one covered in seashells – as a type of camouflage for protection – walk slowly on the soft, sandy bottom. The area around the trestle teemed with activity such as small and large fish, sponges, algae and sea urchins. Next time I’m out there, I’ll be chilling by the trestle soaking it all in.
Below is a brief video of the snorkeling trip.
Additional aqua-based activities in which I didn’t do, including sailing and fishing. But, there’s always tomorrow.