By Natalie Strom
If only every day could start this way. Four days a week, naturalist volunteers at Collier-Seminole State Park lead a three-hour canoe trip through Blackwater River. Just a hop, skip and a jump from the Naples, Marco and Everglades communities, the trips are informative, inexpensive, and most of all, peaceful.
Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, four members of the Friends of Collier Seminole State Park can be found at the park’s launch area at 9:00 AM, prepping for their guided canoe trips. Jeanine and Mike Serrino of Tennessee and Ken and Diana Carter of Kentucky spend their winters camping at Collier Seminole. With a love of nature and adventure, the two couples have volunteered their time for the season to lead the $25 per person canoe trips. The two couples also share the load with Saturday canoe trip volunters Ally and Alex.
On Friday, January 25th, Jeanine, Mike and Ken guided a group of seven through the Blackwater River on a day where the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Each trip begins with a quick instruction on proper canoeing procedure – don’t stand up, use your paddle to move you through the water, follow the guides and don’t rock the boat! Pretty simple.
Jeanine then gave a quick and informative talk pertaining to the native trees and salt marshes throughout Collier-Seminole of which were all in plain sight from the canoe launch. She also pointed out a number of different bird species as they passed overhead.
With that, the group headed to the two-seater canoes where naturalists Jeanine, Ken and Mike made transitioning into the surprisingly steady canoes, and out onto the water, a breeze.
Heading down the Blackwater River, Jeanine explained, “Florida has 160 parks that encompass 700,000 acres and service 20 million people per year. Collier Seminole State Park is 7,300 acres of wilderness. It’s partly located within the great mangrove swamp and also into the freshwater of Big Cypress Swamp.”
The Blackwater River is a part of the great mangrove swamp; where trees thrive on saltwater and wading birds of all varieties nest. The river is quiet and calm and makes your troubles simply melt away.
The mangroves, as explained by Jeanine are the coastline’s first line of defense in a storm. “If you talk to any architect, they will tell you that the strongest structure to build upon is a triangle. And I think Mother Nature knew this, becuase if you look at the root systems – the prop roots that branch down into the water, you can see that they almost always branch out into a triangular shape and that’s how they become so strong.”The intricate way in which the mangroves form, thrive and change was also explained.
A number of short breaks to stretch and rest one’s arms led to even more knowledge on the history of the Ten Thousand Islands and the animals that inhabit it. Ken explained the legacy of the Native Americans throughout Southwest Florida, beginning with the Calusa and running through the Seminole Wars. He also told stories on bootlegging, drug smuggling and town shootings in the early pioneering days.
Taking a turn towards the nature side, Ken brought along alligator teeth and bones to see and feel and discussed the python problem in the glades. He has even taken classes on learning how to properly handle the invasive constrictors.
Of course, no pythons were in sight, but beautiful birds of all varieties were seen. Great blue herons, tri-colored herons, ibises, buzzards, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, and kingfishers all swooped by for some great photo opportunities. At the end of the trip an alligator even made an appearance, only to dip away as the canoes got too close.
Stepping out of the canoes with a peaceful heart and an open mind to the nature that surrounds you, it’s easy to see why Mike, Jeanine, Diana, Ken, Ally and Alex enjoy it so much. And at a cost of only $25, it’s a pretty safe bet that the smile left on your face from this relaxing experience will last you all through the day.
Guided Full Moon Canoe trips are also available in the evenings during the full moon (obviously).
For more information, to volunteer, or to make reservations, call Collier-Seminole State Park at 239-394-3397. Collier-Seminole State Park is located on U.S. 41, eight miles south of County Road 951 (Collier Boulevard), 20200 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, FL 34114.