At the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, a record crowd of more than 800 guests recently celebrated National Estuaries Day (NED). NED is part of a nationwide celebration of National Estuaries Week where organizations and volunteers from across the country gathered at their local bays, riverfronts and estuaries to learn about and celebrate the importance of estuaries and how they benefit our coastal way of life.
The free event at Rookery Bay included boat rides, kayaks, hands-on science demos, kids activities and more.
The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is an undisturbed subtropical mangrove estuary encompassing 110,000 acres, including mangroves, marshes and uplands though more than half of those acres are open waters. The estuary lies along the northern end of the Gulf Coast side of the Ten Thousand Islands at the western edge of the Everglades ecosystem.
A Bit of History
In the early 1960s a land-rush was underway in Collier County. Roads, canals, farms and buildings were springing up along the coast and residents started to notice the negative effects of such activities on their pristine bays and coastal waters.
There was a proposed 10-mile loop road through Rookery Bay referred to at that time as “The Road to Nowhere,” linking the end of Bayshore Drive to Collier Boulevard cutting through the heart of Rookery Bay. A group of citizens from Naples took action to stop the project that would have opened up coastal development. They launched a campaign to buy up 1,600 acres that would form the core of Rookery Bay Reserve.
The Collier County Conservancy (the predecessor to the Conservancy of SW Florida) and the National Audubon Society galvanized support and raised enough money to buy 3,362 acres of land that would have been developed. This would ultimately become the Rookery Bay Sanctuary.
In 1971, four thousand Greater Naples School children ran a penny drive in an effort to stop the road construction through Rookery Bay Reserve. Monument Trail got its name from the Children’s Column, and a time capsule was placed inside it with the names of the children that helped protect this natural environment. The capsule was unfortunately vandalized, and its contents stolen before the capsule could be officially opened in 2000 A.D.
In 1978, Rookery Bay was designated a national sanctuary with 3,700 acres. In the 1990s, the State of Florida spent $57 million buying up nearly 20,000 acres around Rookery Bay. Today, the Rookery Bay Reserve has grown to include 110,000 acres that stretch to the edge of the Everglades National Park.