During a stretch of two days, a total of roughly 300 sixth grade students from Cypress Lake Middle School visited three locations on Fort Myers Beach and learned about island history, ecology and its facilities as part of the school's 50th anniversary celebration.
Members of the Estero Island Historic Society hosted the field trip program called "Adding Footprints in History" at Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, Matanzas Pass Preserve and the FMB Public Library. Students and teachers were bussed in at a neutral site and walked to the three stations for rotating 35-minute educational presentations.
On Wednesday, event coordinator A.J. Bassett gave an island history lesson in Bay Oaks Gymnasium, while Terry Cain and Linda Meeder toured the preserve and Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding walked the sixth graders through the new building expansion and gave a report on library history on the island. Jack Underhill, Penny Brown, Kathi Olson and Vicki Little acted as greeters/crossing guards. Roxie Smith, Barbara Keene and Shirley Davis assisted with the lunch period held at Bay Oaks.
"We're going to add your footprints to those who have come before you," said Bassett during her presentation intro.
The island historian told the students the Beach measures 6-1/2 miles in length and contained 1,466 acres while being only about three feet above sea level. Barrier islands were created at about 3,000 B.C. after glaciers melted and sea levels stabilized.
Bassett spoke about estuaries, time periods, different names for Estero Island and the inhabitants who built bridges, other infrastructure and made the Beach their home since the 1500s. The chronological list includes the Calusa Indians from 1500-1700; Spanish from 1566 to 1800; Pirates from 1700 to 1800; Koreshans from 1894 to present; Homesteaders from 1862 to 1918; Pioneers from 1920 to 1940; Villagers from 1950 to 1960; Islanders from 1970 to 1980 and Town folk from 1990 to present.
"These are the people who left footprints on our tiny, little island that has mangroves across the back and white, sandy beaches along the front," she said.
Basset told stories about her childhood on the island when fish and other sea wildlife were plentiful. She spoke about conservation efforts to preserve the wildlife and habitat.
"History is an ongoing event. Was it the events that brought growth? Was it the growth that brought change? Or change that brought industry? Every one is important," she said. "We don't want to lose our wildlife and habitat. Historians of Fort Myers Beach are very concerned about losing this."
Cain gathered her group at the preserve's amphitheater to discuss their visit to the backside of the barrier island before touring the trail that led to pavilion on the Back Bay. She went over ground level changes, maritime tree hammock coverage and proof that early settlers existed on the island.
"We've found pottery chards back here. We know Calusa Indians and the Spanish were in this area because we found evidence," said Cain.
The pathway led the group through each of the three different kinds of mangrove forests: black, red and white. She recited a mangrove poem to help the students remember the differences between them and spoke about how plants rid themselves of salt.
"Now, we are getting into where we have some tidal influence because we are seeing black mangroves," said Cain, who also pointed out cone spider webs, mangrove crabs, fiddler crabs, Christmas berry shrubs and the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.
"This is the first aquatic preserve in Florida," she said while looking across the Back Bay. "In 1966, 4,000 people got together and sent a representative to Tallahassee to tell state officials to take care of our bay. So, they made us a test study. In 1975, the state passed an aquatic preserve act. You need to be very proud of this, because the water quality will be yours to take care of in the future."
Dr. Hommerding began his tour of the new library facility in the parking garage by telling the students about the filtered irrigation system on the property and the energy-conscious water system that runs through the building.
"Everything is done by this chilled water system within those one-inch pipes that are going throughout the building to generate as much energy as an 18-inch vent that is found in our home or in air-conditioning for a school. So, it is a lot more efficient," he said.
The tour continued to the second floor inside the library living room where one can find newspapers and magazines and a newly installed aquarium. Hommerding described the patterns of the wave-like ceiling panels and shelving arrangements.
"The shelving is made out of maple by a local contractor and one-third of the weight of regular library shelving which makes it much easier for changes in short order," he said. "Inside each of those circular shelving areas will be small round tables and chairs so you get totally engrossed and lost in that part of the room and collection.
On the third floor, students checked out the view of the Gulf and were shown the designated sand area where master sculptors would take turns creating art out of sand before being told about the terrazzo flooring and efficient lighting under energy management system. They were led into one side of the community room to learn about the library history on the island. The first library began as a one-room cottage in 1955, then a three-room cottage in 1957, followed by land purchasing in 1960 with additions in subsequent years and a two-story building in 1994.
"The Beach Library was the first public library in Lee County. We are very proud of that," said Hommerding. "In the past 12 months, the expansion that we are in right now was built as a completely new facility and it adjoins the original building. We don't want to waste energy, and we want to be as friendly as possible to the environment."