When I watched the movie "Hoot" this spring, I couldn't help but turn my thoughts to Florida's environmental woes. "Hoot," which is based on Carl Hiaasen's novel of the same name, carries a message about Florida's explosive growth. With a booming economy in the local and tourist sectors, sometimes the environment gets the short end of the stick.
But nature and man can, of course, coexist, and nowhere in Florida is that more evident than in Lee County. The county is composed of nine distinct areas, but it's most known for Sanibel and Captiva islands. White sand beaches along with unique foliage and wildlife makes this an awe-inspiring place to visit.
"Residents of Lee County realize that between the pristine environment and abundant wildlife, we have some real treasures that we want to preserve," said Lee Rose, communications manager for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Rose said Lee County has instituted aggressive and creative building codes and laws to prevent overdevelopment. The rule book for Sanibel Island, for example, states that "no building shall be taller than the tallest palm tree."
And residents there feel traffic lights take away from the island's ambiance, so there are none. "During 'rush hours' on Sanibel, they direct traffic the old-fashioned way - with police," Rose said.
Another example of how Lee County works to preserve its ecology is through its "live shelling" ordinance, which prohibits the taking of shells with live creatures in them. Shelling is a big draw at Sanibel, where beachcombers can find more than 400 varieties of shells, especially after a high or low tide.
Treat yourself to a refuge
Toward Sanibel's northern tip is the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Home to a host of exotic birds and plants, this preserve offers visitors plenty of opportunities to explore its terrain through hiking, canoeing and kayaking. It is not unusual to see a prowling alligator or a long-legged bird in search of a good meal. The Darling National Wildlife Refuge contains a four-mile scenic drive that features red mangrove, seagrape, sabal palms and a myriad of unique plants.
If you wish to experience the refuge from a different perspective, then book an open-air tram tour through the Tarpon Bay Explorers. The tour, which costs $10 plus tax for adults and $7 for children, is operated by a naturalist guide who provides detailed information on the refuge's wildlife and history. Tarpon Bay also offers 90-minute Nature and SeaLife Cruises, pontoon, motorized canoes and bicycle rentals.
•Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau
•J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
•Tarpon Bay Explorers
•In 2005, 2 million visitors from around the world visited southwest Florida.
•J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a 6,000-acre wildlife refuge, named for Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and pioneer environmentalist Jay Norwood Darling.
•USA Today has ranked "Ding" Darling among the Top 10 birdwatching destinations in North America (about 250 species of birds have been spotted there - common to rare).
•The Calusa Indian tribe was headquartered in the Lee County area about 2,000 years ago.
•Visitors can see the artifacts and burial grounds of these American Indians on the county's remote islands.
•Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, wrote her best-selling book, "A Gift from the Sea," on Captiva Island.
Source: Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau