The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has four trails within its territory. Three are behind the environmental center and one is on Shell Island Road (to be discussed in a later issue). Each has its own appeal.
Stop inside the environmental learning center to get complete information and directions for the Snail Trail. The trailhead is across the bridge over Henderson Creek, accessed from the second floor of the building. Here you get a good view of the mangroves and a possible sighting of manatee, fish, otters, or raccoons. The water is brackish, a combination of salt water from the Gulf and fresh water from the watershed. The brown color of the water is a result of decaying vegetation.
Along the primitive Snail Trail you will observe several different habitats, mangroves and mixed wetlands, mixed hardwoods and mixed palmettos. In addition, early settlersleft behind construction of a cistern dating back to the 1890’s. Also observe the burned trees, done by staff for exotic plant control with a prescribed burn.
The Snail Trail is a half mile long. It connects with two other half mile trails, the Slash Pine Trial and Catbird Loop, for a total of one and a half miles. Native plants can be seen along the trails- ferns, American Beauty Berry, Coco Palm, Cherokee bean, Wax Myrtle and many others. Birds living in the area include wood peckers, hawks, catbirds and song birds.
Located at Collier Boulevard and Tower Road, Rookery Bay is open 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. A complete list of programs can be found on the web site www.rookerybay.org. Besides the trails, there are educational programs, kayak and boat trips and events for children. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 12, and free for children under 3.