Flint Pen Strand becomes part of the CREW Project
Volunteer Perspective Series
By Nan Mattingly
Have you hiked the trails of CREW Flint Pen Strand (FPS) yet? Seen a pair of ospreys fly overhead and heard their distinctive call? Enjoyed the serenity of walking alongside the Kehl Canal on the red trail? Watched the antics of shorebirds along the lakes on the eastern side? Identified any of the colorful wildflowers that grow throughout the 14,000-acre property?
If so, you and many hikers, equestrians, bicyclists, hunters, photographers, dog walkers and nature lovers owe a big thanks to the people, organizations and local and state governments who cooperated to acquire the land, restore its natural ability to collect and purify water to replenish the aquifers and develop the trails that we now enjoy.
To encourage you and your family to discover the beauty of FPS, we’ve written a series of blogs to tell you a little about the background of the establishment of FPS as part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project, the historical use of the land and the restoration of its wetlands.
The area now known as CREW Flint Pen Strand was, in the late twentieth century, a flat and flood-prone area. At that time, the land was in the beginning stages of development for single-family homes on five- to ten-acre plots. A small part of the land was already inhabited and was being used for pasture, row crops and other agricultural activities, and a mobile home park was situated within its boundaries.
But local officials, environmentalists and residents recognized that development was affecting surface water storage and the natural flow of water from the Lake Trafford area through Lee and Collier County and into the Imperial and Cocohatchee Rivers. Bonita Springs was experiencing increased flooding and contamination of surface and ground waters. After a great deal of tangling with red tape, many community hearings and various assessments, it was decided that it was critical to halt development and restore the ecosystem of the land to improve water quality and supply, reduce the threat of flooding and improve habitat for protected species and other wildlife.
Water quality testing at that time had revealed the undesirable effects of agricultural and residential use of the land. These activities added pollutants to the water and decreased the time that water could linger on the land, reducing the amount of water that seeped into the aquifer. This finding made the restoration project more urgent.
An environmental assessment performed, as a part of the larger project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, found that the restoration of FPS wetlands would reclaim habitat needed by several species, including wood storks, an endangered species at that time (now classified as threatened). Wood storks have extremely specific foraging requirements, and FPS promised to provide their essential needs for nesting and feeding. Consideration was also given to the Florida panther, its need for space to roam, and the numerous other species protected within their range, as well as the Florida black bear and the Big Cypress fox squirrel. The project also would aim to remove much of the exotic vegetation that had invaded the land, primarily melaleuca trees and Brazilian pepper bushes.
In short, restoration of FPS promised considerable benefits for wildlife, vegetation and people.
If you look at a map of the CREW Project as it now exists, you’ll see that FPS is a key part of the project, adjoining CREW Bird Rookery Swamp and buffering Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. FPS comprises a large part of the 60,000-acre CREW Project. More importantly, FPS has become a key part of the protection of the 3-aquifers underlying the CREW Project – the aquifers that provide much of the drinking and general use water for southern Lee County and northern Collier County. The ongoing restoration of the wetlands and the landscape of FPS is now transforming this environmentally valuable property into a place that everyone can enjoy – a place that allows birds and many species to call it home and that will help keep us all supplied with drinking water.
And if you want to see some evidence of whether or not this ambitious restoration project has achieved any of its goals, check out the weekly volunteer observation reports by a CREW Trust volunteer who records the type and number of species he encounters in his lengthy trail walks. Those observations are posted on the CREW Land & Water Trust Facebook page (@CREWTrust). Additionally, if you walk the Red Trail, you’ll find an area that some call the melaleuca graveyard. A lot of work by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has gone into the effort to kill those invasive trees that threaten native species. That work continues. Keep an eye out for the next post in this series – it may surprise you, to learn who the earliest users of FPS lands and resources were and how they traveled to get there.