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Lovers Key dreams realized

FOLKS unveil visitor’s center plans.

November 20, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Attendees were told to close their eyes and listen when Pamela Jones-Morton, Friends of Lovers Key State Park board member, began her speech.

Everyone obeyed, and the quiet rush of waves on the sand filled the air.

"Isn't that beautiful?" Jones-Morton, former president, said.

Article Photos

The new visitor's center has a sleek, modern design made by Sweet Sparkman of Sarasota.

It was beautiful - although occasionally punctuated by the sound of someone slapping away a no-see-um swarm.

The Friends of Lovers Key State Park (FOLKS) group celebrated its 20th anniversary Friday, but the party was more than just recognizing two decades of service.

For the first time, the group unveiled renderings of the approved environmental and education center that it's been working to gain for the last seven years.

"The state approved $4 million to build what we've dreamed about," FOLKS president Rich Donnelly said.

It will be the state park's first visitor's center, providing an indoor, air conditioned space with room for interactive displays as well as a public space for meetings, programs, classes and wedding rentals.

The design was completed by Sweet Sparkman of Sarasota. Donnelly said he hoped for a groundbreaking in May. The center would be approximately 5,500 square feet.

Inside the visitor's center, interactive and fun displays will educate children and adults about the local and state environment. These displays will be FOLK's responsibility to fund and will cost about $800,000. FOLK is seeking donations to help raise money for this educational material. They've already contracted a designer, Split Rock Studios out of Minnesota.

Donnelly honored Mark Generales for his work to lobby the state for the funds.

The FOLKS group legally cannot lobby the state government to fund projects, so Generales took up the task himself, acting as an individual.

"Mark was instrumental in making the visitors center dreams come true," Donnelly said.

Generales is a former county council member in South Carolina, so he had an idea of how to get the project in eyesight of the state government. He began meeting with local and state legislators to get their attention, and Florida Representative Matt Caldwell took interest in the visitors center.

Caldwell attended the celebration Friday.

"It wasn't a hard sell," he said of Generales' lobbying.

One of the things that attracted Caldwell was the educational component inside the center, with information geared not just toward children but also adult park visitors.

"Education is critical. There's nowhere else in the world like Florida," Caldwell said.

With more and more adults moving to Florida every day, it's important to inform them about their surroundings in Florida since it's not the same as where they might have moved from.

"It's not just about the kids, it's also about the adults and understanding their place in the environment," he said.

The state park was founded in 1996, and FOLKS in 1997. Before it was a park, it had been a Calusa site, a popular remote island to camp on, and almost became a development until a group of residents saved it.

Jones-Morton said it got the name because young lovers would sneak out to the islands overnight, but that the island had always been a gathering place for people across centuries.

"People have come here for one purpose: the beauty and essence of the soul of the Gulf of Mexico," she said. "It's our duty to ensure the next generations do the same."

 
 

 

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