Ain’t no party like a BEAR CRASHING YOUR PARTY: How to properly host an event at the CREW pavillions

Often we find things on the trails and we get to use them as clues to interpret what happened.

Our most recent favorite find was in an email from Dick Brewer, our volunteer naturalist. Dick found a recently-killed alligator (or its parts) on the trail and, based on all of the clues he saw, deduced that a bobcat had taken down the gator.

That is a way more interesting find than the photo above, which was taken by one of FGCU’s awesome campus naturalists who was out on the CREW Marsh Trails.

In the photo you see what was once a storage shed that was located in the woods near Suzanne’s Pavillion. It sat empty this summer because, in the winter, we had incidences of hikers breaking into our plastic shed. I’m not sure what they hoped to find – gold, rare artifacts, maybe that’s where they think the panthers hide? We once stored field trip supplies in that shed, but those had to be moved and our volunteers built permanent storage solutions for those materials in order to avoid someone stealing our dip nets and plastic bins.

Now, it’s important to note that this photo didn’t suprise us. The day before this mess was found, we led a tour at the Marsh trails and Savannah and I found watermelon rinds thrown around the parking lot along with a few plastic forks. Then, out on the trails, we found pieces of blue balloons.

So this party photo – where somone decided to stash their garbage in our old storage shed?

Unsurprising. Sad, A total mess and worse – a wildlife hazard.

Who tore into that delicious trash? A bear. A bear that frequents the area, because we can see the scat when we do hikes. And now that bear has a new favorite place. I mean, if I found a storage shed full of leftover cake and watermelon, I would go back and look for more.

The stash of trash, plastic blue balloon pieces and food in the parking lot tells a story – and it’s not a good one. Someone planned a party, brought their supplies out, hiked to the pavillion, had a great time, cleaned up the trash, looked around for a garbage can, found our storage shed off the trail, busted into it and stashed their trash. Hiked back. Went home. Didn’t think about the ballons they let blow all over; didn’t think about the wildlife out there who might try and eat the balloon pieces, or the bear who would tear apart the shed to get to their garbage.

We practice leave no trace for a lot of reasons at our trails, and the number one reason is to protect wildlife. We can’t emphasize this enough – the land is there for water first, then wildlife, then humans. We come third.

So, how can someone host an event at the pavillion and avoid making a huge giant dangerous mess? Check out our suggestions below.

Only pack in what you can pack out

A big old sheet cake that requires forks, plates and napkins is going to be terribly difficult to cart to the pavillion and that’s an approximately one mile hike at the Marsh Trails. Instead, take a box of cupcakes and a plastic bag. Eat the cupcakes, put your cupcake wrappers and  cardboard box cupcake carrier into your small trash bag and stash it in your backpack. Then go enjoy the trails. Or grab birthday-cake flavored snack bars. Or pack fruit! Anything that doesn’t leave you with a bunch of waste is a great idea.

Release joy, not balloons

Instead of bringing balloons to celebrate or decorate,  opt for singing a birthday song to celebrate. Bonus if the songbirds join in. Or, if you reall need something to set the birthday boy/girl apart from the crowd, decorate their hiking stick for the day. Just not with balloons. Please.

Hike, then eat

Instead of taking all of your food out to the pavillion, opt instead to eat at our convenient ring of benches at the trailhead in the parking lot. It’s a very cool, shaded spot, and your food and drinks can stay nice and cool in a cooler in your car. That’s much better than trying to heat lunch that is boiling lava hot after hiking in the Florida sun for an hour or more. And then you are very close to your car so you can toss your waste in a trash bag that you brought, put the garbage in your trunk and drive home.

We do want everyone to enjoy the pavillions, which are a fabulous resource that we use for all of our field trips and many Strolling Science Seminars. We hope you do so respectfully and, if you need assistance or tips about how to use them appropriately, please contact our office.

A special thank you to FGCU colloquium and Brenda Thomas; the class cleaned up the garbage and the shed and hiked it all out to the trail head during their class field trip.


Dogs Welcome – just practice proper pet etiquette

We love dogs.

And we love seeing leashed dogs on the trails.* For many owners, our trails are a quiet place to get some miles in and let their furry family members sniff all the plants and enjoy some sunshine.


And there’s always a but. And in this case, it invovles your dog’s butt.

We need to talk about poop.

While identifying scat on the trails is super fun, especially bobcat and bear scat, identifying or stepping in dog scat is not. And it is the responsibility of the dog owner to clean up after their dog.

We practice the Leave No Trace principles and your dog waste counts as leaving a trace. If you brought it in- and you did, even though it was inside your dog – you need to take it out. ALL the way out. Otherwise, you are guilty of poor pet etiquette. And as we say all too often, trash attracts trash. If you leave a water bottle at the gate, someone else will see it and think oh cool, I can leave my water bottle here too. Same with leaving your dog poo bags in the parking lot or worse- hanging them on the fence. Someone else comes along and thinks that’s an okay thing to do, and suddenly our trail visitors are sadly greated by a row of smelly bundles.

We do not have trash cans at our trail systems because these sites are primitive trails. They are free to the public and there are no visitors centers and no staff; therefore no one to empty trash cans regularly, and that would be a hazard to wildlife.

Here’s a great, quick run-down of dog owner etiquette from the Animal Humane Society.

Dog owners have a responsibility to manage their pets’ behavior and follow certain rules of etiquette. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you and your dog are being courteous community members.

  • Scoop your poop. Bring several bags on your walks to be sure you have enough. If you run out, either come back and clean it up later, or ask another walker if they have a bag to spare.
  • Prevent barking. Practice getting your dog’s attention to easily redirect him if he barks at people or other dogs. If you know your dog acts this way, only allow him in the yard when supervised.
  • Only let your dog greet a stranger if they ask.The same rule applies if you see another dog and owner approaching. Ask first and respect the other’s response.
  • Always leash your dog on walks. Not everyone is comfortable around dogs. Keep your dog close to you and stay alert to others. Your leash should be short enough to prevent your dog from contacting or jumping on passersby.
  • Don’t play while on leash. If you meet another dog on a walk (and it’s alright with their owner) let the dogs sniff each other for five seconds and move on. Letting your dog play with another dog while on leash can result in injury and teach your dog that all dogs enjoy this kind of interaction, although many don’t.
  • Be aware of other people’s feelings. If your dog does something to upset someone (jumping up, barking) apologize to them and take measures to prevent the situation from reoccurring.


*Please note- we do not encourage the walking of dogs at Bird Rookery Swamp and there are signs posted at the trail head regarding this.

Let’s All Leave No Trace

Blue skies, cool breezes and dry trails mean a lot of us are heading to our favorite spots on the CREW trails.

Last weekend, a group of campers reported that they found an old pile of trash at one of our primitive campsites. I returned later that day to clean it up for our next group of campers and, what was one small pile of old trash led to three different areas behind the camping area where trash had repeatedly been dumped.

I apologized to the new campers for the trash, cleaned up three bags and left. On the way back to the gate, I collected candy wrappers, a disposable coffee cup, and a pile of dog waste bags that were neatly placed next to our only port-o-potty.

I had two teenage helpers with me, and one of them said, “Why don’t you just have a trash can out here?”

That’s a very good question. And we have very long, detailed answers we can give. But, the simple answer is this:

Leave No Trace.

There are seven Leave No Trace principles, found here at

Plan ahead and prepare: Know where you are going and the regulations for that area.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Concentrate on using existing trails, campsites and surfaces. Good campsites are found, not altered.

Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. This includes waste created by pets.

Leave what you find: Refrain from taking rocks and sticks to stack near trail heads for future use; do not remove anything you find on the trail.

Minimize campfire impacts: Keep fires small and only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. This is highly important during our current very dry season.

Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them.

Be considerate of other visitors: Treat others on the trail as you would wish to be treated.

In addition to our posting signs about leaving no trace, we also have trail use guidelines, which go into more specific details on our website:

It would be easy to post more signs, but the reality is, the best way to change behavior is to model the behavior we want to see.

Which is what most of our visitors do, and we appreciate you and your continued efforts to leave no trace. And we hope that, as you meet new hikers on the trail or take friends and relatives out, you pass the leave no trace principles on to them.

For complete SFWMD public use rules, visit

For more information on how you can help with trail clean-ups and become a volunteer, email