CREW protected lands provide snapshot of old Florida, haven for wildlife

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Lingering red tide, health alerts, and debris in Southwest Florida waterways may have you thinking twice before swimming, but there are other ways to enjoy the outdoors here, like visiting the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed trails.

Walking around the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, CREW for short, has been compared to walking into old Florida.

Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. (Credit: WINK News)

“The CREW project was something that was started back in the late 1980s with the Save Our Rivers program,” said Bob Lucius, executive director of the CREW Land and Water Trust. “This is what you might have seen 100, 150, 200 years ago.”

CREW stretches across 60,000 acres straddling Lee and Collier counties with four walking trails.

“I think it’s important to preserve areas like this for everybody to come,” said Martin Boccuto, a hiker in CREW.

“You know, you can’t just shop or go to the beach and that kind of stuff,” said fellow hiker Stacey Byrne. “A family can do this, and it’s affordable.”

“It’s not just about coming out here and seeing the scenery; this scenery does things for our communities, and we want them to go away appreciating that,” Lucius said.

CREW is the largest intact watershed in Southwest Florida. The land is crucial to protecting our water resources.

Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. (Credit: WINK News)

“We often hear about the concerns people have with red tide or blue-green algae in the canals—that comes from, a lot of times, excess nutrients, right? Having wetlands like that filters that water as it runs off across the land,” Lucius said. “It’s extremely important, not just for the water, but for biodiversity conservation, to keep these lands green.”

These green lands are home to 500 native plants, almost 300 native animals, and 49 threatened or endangered species—a true snapshot of a bygone Florida.

“Just yesterday, I had students out here, and they saw some panther scat on the boardwalk,” Lucius said. “They saw a tree that a bear uses for his manicure and pedicure and for a backrub.”

These lands weren’t always natural safe havens. Before CREW’s purchase for conservation in 1990, the natural environment was deteriorating, as its trees were cut for logging. Now, the land, its plants, and animals are thriving.

CREW’s work is still not done: It has a “most wanted” list of land yet to buy. As the population of Southwest Florida grows, CREW considers the protection of green spaces for wildlife habitats and human recreation more important than ever.

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