Friends of Rookery Bay’s Executive Director Athan Barkoukis doesn’t seem like one who is prone to hyperbole. However, when asked about the inaugural Rookery Bay Road Rally as the final participants motored away on Sunday afternoon at the Goodland boat ramp, he could barely contain his enthusiasm.
“Extraordinary,” Barkoukis said, “absolutely extraordinary.”
Barkoukis was intimately involved with the production of the event. He was in the thick of registration in the parking lot of the Naples Botanical Garden and he literally handed goodie bags to every participant when they finished participating in the Road Rally at the Goodland boat ramp.
“It was an inaugural event and we were thinking 30-40 cars, and we ended up with 94 cars and 225 participants—most of them doing their first road rally,” Barkoukis said. “For many of them, it was their first time engaging with Friends of Rookery Bay, which is exciting.
“We had a lot of families, a bunch of children—people were even bringing their dogs with them.”
He figures this was the perfect event to stage during the pandemic.
“Everyone is looking for fun,” he reasons, “creative things to do, that are also safe. This was the perfect meld of all of that while also getting a chance to see the reserve of Rookery Bay—and its boundaries from the northern extent to Goodland. It gives a perception of the 40% of Collier County’s coastline that we protect.”
Barkoukis was amazed at the public interest in the road rally. “The big surprise was the overwhelming interest. We had to close registration and turn people away because we exceeded our capacity. It shows that we’re definitely going to do this again in the future. I wanted to end in Goodland—support the local restaurants down here. It was very important for me when we were trying to look at the route. We want people to support the local community.”
He said the event was unique in that all participants seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. “Every single person seemed to have fun. I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of an event where I can say that.”