Entering the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Saturday morning was like stepping into a remote and exotic utopia. Amid the soft morning light in the idyllic beauty of the reserve, the symmetry of finely polished vintage automotive masterpieces and palm trees and Spanish moss-draped oaks was a sight to behold.
The dichotomy of the two groups that were brought together for the second annual Rookery Bay Classic Car Show was not lost on event organizer Keith Pershing.
“This is the best venue that there is,” said Keith Pershing, owner of Island Automotive. “It crosses people fields. People coming to see the natural world of Rookery Bay and us car guys. We are probably just the opposite. One of my customers has a connection at Rookery Bay and suggested we try it. We put it together last year, and it turned out the way we thought it would. The car people came here and said, ‘I didn’t know about this place.’ They said, ‘I’ve got to bring my kids here, my grandkids here when they visit. One lady came in and said, ‘This is awesome. I’m going to bring my grandkids here. And I just signed up for next month on the Rookery Bay volunteer list.’ And people who aren’t car people got to see us. Bird watchers and tire burners meet.
“We all have hobbies. And being respectful of each other’s hobbies are important. The venue is beautiful for us to enjoy. It lets the cars look beautiful in the shade and the sun and the beauty of this natural setting. We’re sharing our passion in the middle of theirs. This is our second year and we expect many more.”
The staff at Rookery Bay took advantage of the increased flow of people traffic brought by the car show.
“We’re a non-profit, Friends of Rookery Bay,” said Athan Barkoukis, Executive Director for Friends of Rookery Bay. “Our mission is connecting people to Southwest Florida’s coastal environment at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. This car show allows us to connect new audiences to our place. The reserve itself has been protecting 40% of Southwest Florida’s coastline for more than 40 years. We’re out there protecting the coastline for all to enjoy. This is an event to showcase that.
“We have a lot of things that most car shows don’t have. We’re very family–friendly. We have a ton of educational programs and offerings, food trucks. The landscape here is fantastic. The cars are interspersed among beautiful trees. It’s not a wide-open parking lot, which most of the car shows are. If you talk to any of the car owners, I can tell you they love coming down to Rookery Bay because it is a unique place to showcase their cars. And since it’s family–friendly, dad can be showcasing the car and the kids can be out learning about our estuary.
Jessica McIntosh, the reserve’s coastal training program coordinator was on-hand at the event. McIntosh’s award-winning program, Science Solutions, Working Together to Save Rookery Bay, is a series of webinars that is quite popular as we navigate through the current pandemic.
“We have a different webinar each month to share a success story about how science has saved the environment,” McIntosh said. “We had a webinar on the Georgia Fruit Farm Mangrove Restoration on Marco Island; we had over 100 people attend that. We had a webinar about mosquito control, how there was research done here to help them do the right kind of spraying. The nice thing is there are a lot of people who are seasonal on Marco Island, they can attend wherever they are to learn about that restoration that will be going on. We had people from Alaska, from Washington State, Puerto Rico, all kinds of places. We’re looking at doing something again next summer for the seasonal residents who like to stay in touch with us all year long.”
A total of 84 cars were strategically placed among the oaks and palms. One classic, a pristine 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, has been in the same family for all of its 63 years.
“It’s just a 1957 that belonged to my grandparents,” said Larry Gardner. “When they got to the point where they couldn’t drive anymore, I purchased it from them. I probably picked it up in the early 1980s. The inside hasn’t been touched. It was painted on the exterior about 25 years ago. That’s it. That’s the way she sits. Everything else is just the way she is.”
- People’s Choice, 1st place, 1927 Packard Phaeton, Gene Nau
- People’s Choice, 2nd place, 1967 Volkswagon Transporter Type II, George Connell
- People’s Choice, 3rd place, 1975 Citroen Deux Chevaux, Donna Wexler
- Rookery Bay’s Top Choice, 1934 Packard Coupe, Jack Dunning
- Best Muscle Car, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, Jim Fox
- 1920-29 Top Choice, 1927 Packard Phaeton, Gene Nau
- 1930-39 Top Choice, 1934 Packard Coupe, Jack Dunning
- 1940-49 Top Choice, 1947 Lincoln Cabriolet, Edward Chesney
- 1950-59 Top Choice, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, Jim Fox
- 1960-73 Top Choice, 1967 Volkswagon Transporter Type II, George Connell