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Lovers Key State Park opens welcome and discovery center

Portion of exhibits completed and open to the public

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | May 27, 2021

Deborah Almquist, a volunteer at the Lovers Key State Park Welcome and Discovery Center, talks about the history of the park. The exhibits opened up to the public on May 15. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

After months of delays while technical aspects and permits for a sewer line connection were worked out, the Lovers Key State Park Welcome and Discovery Center has opened to the public.

With a long, winding ramp for visitors in the back of the park’s parking lot, the exhibit hall is open though not fully complete. More work is expected for the coastal strand exhibit, maritime hammock and estuary/mangrove exhibit. Another section of the center, in between the observation deck, is supposed to include meeting rooms with space for educational programs, kitchen and community room. The exhibits were created by Minnesota-based Split Rock Studios. The Friends of Lovers Key have also spoken about creating sculptures at the site.

Deborah Almquist, a self-described Fort Myers Beach “snowbird” from Maine and docent volunteer at the welcome and discovery center, likes talking about the park’s history and its 14-feet deep canals that allow for kayaking and visits from manatees.

Almquist said she is fond of the timeline on the wall which gives a history of the area and the park from the time of the native Calusa tribe to acquisition of land by Carl E. Johnson. Johnson was a surveyor who laid out the Bonita Beach Causeway.

Johnson donated 975 acres of coastal property to Lee County for a public recreation area in 1960, years before the state would take over the barrier islands. Johnson’s company, Johnson Engineering, continues to support the park. “They donated the land fortunately,” Almquist said.

Years later, there was an effort to build homes on part of the property the park sits on. “Part of this state park was going to be developed,” she said. Thankfully for nature lovers, the state bought the property and preserved it as a state park.

Almquist said she is looking forward to the completion of the discovery center’s exhibits. There is still a need for volunteers to help at the discovery center, she said.

“This is a beautiful park. We hope to encourage more people to come in and visit the discovery center so they really understand what they are seeing out there.”

Some of the exhibits are geared toward children with information about birds, butterflies, sea turtles and replicas of shells. There is a gift shop with artwork, cups, plates and books.

“I think they’ve done a lovely job to express our environment here,” Almquist said.

Entrance to the welcome and discovery center is free with admission to the park. Currently, the center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Wednesday through Sunday.

The center was financed with $4 million in state funds while the Friends of Lovers Key have been fundraising for $1.6 million to furnish the center with exhibits and other educational features.

“I love it here,” Almquist said.