The CREW Land & Water Trust was established in 1989 as a nonprofit organization to coordinate the land acquisition, land management, and public use of the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW).
The CREW project spans southern Lee and northern Collier Counties in southwest Florida. It includes the Corkscrew Marsh, Bird Rookery Swamp, Flint Pen Strand, Camp Keais Strand, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
The CREW project began in 1989 after several years of drought caused wells to go dry in southern Lee County. The Lee County Commission applied for the Save Our Rivers Program, asking the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to buy Flint Pen Strand for a water recharge area to ensure a better water supply for southern Lee County. At the same time, Corkscrew Swamp and the Conservancy of Naples applied to the same Save Our Rivers Program asking the SFWMD to buy Bird Rookery Swamp to protect the southern and western edges of the Corkscrew Sanctuary. The SFWMD looked at both applications and noticed that the two parcels of land were near each other. They studied the area further, discovered there was an entire undisturbed watershed system there and determined that the whole system needed to be protected.
However, the SFWMD could not afford to purchase the whole project – some 50,000 acres – at one time. So, some concerned citizens, including Joel Kuperberg, formed the CREW Land & Water Trust. The Trust was formed as a private, non‐profit organization – in partnership with public agencies – whose mission was to coordinate and oversee the purchase and management of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) project. With a lot of determination and through partnerships with state and local governments, private landowners and businesses, environmental organizations and interested citizens, the first parcels of land were bought in 1990. Today, over 55,000 acres of the 60,000‐acre project have been protected for conservation.
Protecting this land provides a place for water to slowly seep in to the ground, recharging the aquifer with drinking water. It also allows water to spread out and flow across the land where vegetation can filter pollutants out of the water before it reaches the Gulf. In addition to providing for clean water, protecting this land also makes available habitat for wildlife and recreation lands for the public.
The CREW Trust, Lee and Collier Counties, and the SFWMD purchased most of the lands around the sanctuary. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, owned by the National Audubon Society, lays in the center of the CREW project, and remains the heart of the CREW watershed. The SFWMD now manages the land to restore water flow, remove exotic plants and animals, and re‐plant native vegetation. The CREW Land & Water Trust provides most of the education and outreach programs, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides law enforcement and wildlife management on the CREW properties. It is truly a cooperative effort.
In 1994, the CREW Marsh Hiking Trails off of Collier County Road 850 (Corkscrew Road) were opened for public access. These trails provide hikers with an opportunity to see pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and the Corkscrew Marsh along five miles of hiking trails. In 2008, the CREW Cypress Dome Trails were opened for recreational use. CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trails opened to the public in 2011 and, after the completion of the Southern Critical CREW Resoration Project, the first trails at the CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails opened – including the Billy G. Cobb Memorial Trail. All of the CREW Trails are available for hiking free of charge, from sunrise to sunset all year.
The CREW Trust’s role has evolved over time, from a focus on land acquisition to land management to education and outreach. But, the key to our success has been the ever-present and important partnerships with other organizations, businesses, government agencies and members. Today, our volunteer program greatly amplifies our ability to protect the watershed, provide recreation opportunities and educate the public. Our volunteers do the equivalent work of four full-time staff members, essentially tripling our capacity to do good.
The work is still not done, though. Of the 60,000 acres within the boundaries of the CREW project, just over 55,000 are in preservation. We have a “Most-Wanted” list of land yet to buy. Population growth in southwest Florida has created greater demands on natural resources, especially water. And the protection of green spaces for wildlife habitat and human recreation is more important than ever.