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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

We Live in Paradise

Mar 31, 2024 08:00AM ● By Sharon Bruckman

When I needed tips on kayaking near Everglades City, I knew just who to call: my nature-loving friend Julie Johnson, who has been paddling around the Ten Thousand Islands ever since she set up camp in Chokoloskee and became enchanted with the region. Julie has toured 50 of the 73 waterways in Johnny Molloy’s book, Canoeing & Kayaking Florida, which is considered the most comprehensive guide to Florida’s unique streams, springs, creeks, rivers and coastal shorelines. Julie has firsthand knowledge of these exquisite locales and happily shared some of her favorite spots with me. 

Julie’s love of paddling started 33 years ago at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (, which stretches across 110,000 acres from Gordon Pass, in Naples, to the pristine mangrove forests, uplands and protected waters, in western portions of the Everglades. Visitors can enjoy sunset bird tours, explore mangrove tunnels and paddle some of the most quiet and tranquil parts of Rookery Bay with a biologist guide or solo. It’s one of my favorite places. Heading north to Lee County, another favorite of mine is GAEA Guides (, which offers kayak tours along Fort Myers’ rivers and estuaries guided by a master naturalist.

When Julie hurt a rotator cuff last year and couldn’t paddle, she got her nature fix on biking and hiking trails. One of her preferred sites is Collier Seminole State Park, which is not far from Naples city and just a couple of miles east of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Offering plenty of inspiring settings to paddle, hike and birdwatch, the best time to visit is just before dusk or dark when different species are either coming in to roost for the night or leaving their nest for the day. Julie also loves the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, which happens to be the largest state park in Florida and home to an array of plants and animals that can be found nowhere else in the continental U.S.

If Julie’s adventures have inspired you, a quick search on the internet will bring up plenty of other paddling, hiking and biking resources in our beautiful paradise. To learn more about nature adventures and stepping lightly on planet Earth, be sure to read Sara Kaplan’s feature story “Sustainable Travel: Wanderlust With the Earth in Mind” on page 24. 

The first Earth Day in 1970 mobilized millions of Americans from all walks of life to birth the modern environmental movement. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into the largest civic event on Earth, activating billions across 192 countries to safeguard our planet for a brighter future. I invite you to check out our calendar for local events and support the wonderful organizations that help protect and clean our waterways and other precious habitats. Try to spend more time in nature (especially barefoot) so you can hear and feel our dear Mother Earth’s quiet whispers. She sustains and nurtures us, so be sure to give back. We need each other. 

Happy Trails,

Sharon Bruckman