Many thanks to the teams participating in our Conservation Collier Photo Tour Done-in-a-Day project!  Conservation Collier is a component of the community planning and growth management strategies working in Collier County; to acquire, preserve, restore and maintain threatened natural lands, forest, upland and wetland communities for present and future generations of citizens and visitors alike.

There were a total of 34 GNL members who visited one of 9 different preserves on January 22, 2022 from 8:30-11:30 am.  There are a total of 4,345 acres in 21 locations, 12 which are currently open to the public.  Each has unique features in landscape and wildlife.  Fun was had by all, although the day had cooler temperatures and overcast skies.  In some ways, it was a perfect day for hikes in nature. Explore the tabs below to read about each preserve and see photos taken by GNLers.

There were so many lovely spots highlighted within the Naples/Collier County area with this Done-In-A-Day project.   We visited only 9 of the current 12 preserves open to the public during this project; and it was only an introduction for 34 members of GNL.  Our entire membership has an opportunity to not only enjoy them now, but help friends and family discover them as well.  Please consider sharing your experiences and visiting other preserves.  We touched only the surface of what is available.  Conservation Collier is but one component of the community planning and growth management strategies; to acquire, preserve, restore and maintain threatened natural lands and will continue to expand in the future.  Our opportunity can include volunteering, but we can also promote these magical experiences for present and future citizens and visitors. 

The Gordon River Greenway provided two teams an opportunity to meet in the middle of the diverse landscape starting from two different entrances – Baker Park and Naples Zoo. Cathie Estey (Class XXV) and husband John with Karen Schmitt (Class XXV) and husband Ray started at Baker Park and Class XX members Patti Salvagio, Linda Noel and Louise Cromwell started at the Naples Zoo.

With ample parking, restrooms, picnic tables and a children’s playground – there is something for almost everyone; including canoe and kayak launch areas and the Flight Observation Platform for Naples Airport.  A boardwalk took the teams through tall mangroves, pine flatwoods and saw palmetto habitat with a variety of wildlife; including yellow-crowned night heron, red-shouldered hawks, red-bellied woodpeckers and bald eagles.

Gordon River Greenway

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Class XX L to R Louise Cromwell, Linda Noel, Patti Salvagio

Class XXIII members Ajit Desai, Charlie Offutt and Wendy Needham explored Freedom Park Preserve nestled into the northwest corner of Golden Gate Parkway and Goodlette-Frank Road.  Although many have seen the flag memorializing the 9-11 victims, the team found it a lovely preserve and larger than first assumed.  The boardwalk provided a very walkable experience through typical Florida foliage, with the western half a natural wetland serving as a filter for runoff from the surrounding community.  One normally can anticipate otters, bobcats, gators and a variety of birds but on this visit there was only one brave raccoon washing his food in the water under the walkway.

Freedom Park

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L to R: Charlie Offutt, Wendy Needham, Ajit Desai

Class XXII members Caren Arnstein (with husband Kevlin Cross) and Julie Wade (with husband Phil) not only enjoyed their hike through Nancy Payton Preserve, but enjoyed seeing the homes, horse farms and even a goat farm driving to the preserve!  The parking area was well-marked and built by Eagle Scouts – with their motto carved into the wood fence.  There were no bathroom or water fountains at the preserve, but benches and picnic tables were available for a snack or lunch break.  The 2-mile loop trail was an easy walk through open, flat, sandy native pine and palm habitat.  Although there were plenty of deer, raccoon and other animal tracks in the sand, there was only a hawk flying overhead and a small bird scurrying through the brush.

Nancy Payton Preserve

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The road into the preserve

Class XXIII members Maura Delehanty and Kevin Barry explored Rivers Road Preserve.  This preserve location is 2.5 miles east of Collier Boulevard.  There are 1.5 miles of hiking trails with a shaded picnic area built by Eagle Scouts and several benches along the trail.  Although this is a relatively short hiking trail, the original purpose of the preserve was to protect natural lands along Immokalee Road; providing protection of water resources, flood control and biological diversity of the area.  The plants found in the preserve include Cabbage Palm, inland ponds and sloughs, mixed wetland hardwoods, cypress, pine flatwoods, mixed wetland forests and freshwater marsh with 160 recorded vascular plant species.  White-tailed deer, Florida black bear, wild feral hogs and Florida panthers have been observed within the preserve.

The CaraCara Prairie Preserve provided Maria Winkler (Class XX), Gunther Winkler (Class XXII), Kitty Keane (Class XVIII) and husband Jack and Jinny Johnson (Class VII) and husband John with a great adventure of 5 miles round trip, 3 hour hike.  With the trail, although generally level, broad and grassy, in some sections was marshy making waterproof shoes a good thing!  The open meadows allowed easy sightings of birds and animals including red-bellied woodpeckers, red-shouldered hawks, sandhill cranes, white-tailed deer and cattle.  Unfortunately, the endangered crested caracara was not sighted during this visit!

CaraCara Preserve

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Cows - Photo by John Johnson

The Panther Walk Preserve is not far from Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary where Dick Woodbridge (Class XX), Karen Woodbridge (Class XXIII) and Tammi Pittaro (Class XXI) found a wild place in the middle of civilization!  The entire trail is a little over a half mile from one end to the other and back with many beautiful plants and colorful bromeliads (air plants) and lichen growing on many trees.  The natural trail is marked by pink tape.  It winds through the small forest and fields and into and through the swamp with 1-3 inches of standing water – old shoes or waterproof rain boots would be advisable, along with bug spray!  Although a red-shouldered hawk and a woodpecker were observed during the visit, other birds have been recorded such as American Robin, black and white warblers, palm warblers, red bellied and downy woodpeckers, tree swallows, just to name a few.  Other wildlife includes Florida panther and black bear, raccoon, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer and Big Cypress fox squirrel.

Panther Walk Preserve

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Colorful Lichen

Class XXIV members Dave Bernd, Carol Gaffney and Al Girod explored Dr. Robert H. Gore II Preserve which they found unique, impressive, varied and way out there!  Although the walk was comfortable on well-marked, well-groomed trails, it was miles away from development and traffic.   The preserve is located in the remote wilderness of the most southeastern portion of Golden Gate Estates – the last piece of private land before entering the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (24,000 acres).  Every path was beautiful native Florida, even traveling through several ecosystems.  The initial soft path with several animal tracks (including panther), gave way to rocky limestone and areas with cypress.  Even small places provided the beauty of mushrooms, flowers, lichen and areas of feathery ferns.  The benches along the trail allowed for peaceful rests listening to birds and enjoy the breezes.


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Carol Gaffney Class XXIV & Dave Bernd Class XXIV

Class XXIII members Barbara Davin, Cynthia Lynch, Mark Schwab (with wife Yone) visited Cocohatchee Creek Preserve and Alligator Flag Preserve.

Alligator Flag Preserve is located across from the Gulf Coast High and Laurel Oak Elementary Schools, accessible by foot or bike as there is no parking lot.  It is an easy stroll along the sidewalk adjacent to the Dunkin’ Donuts at Immokalee Road and Preserve Lane.  When entering the preserve, there is blanket of tranquility and unexpected sheltering from the nearby street noise.  Pine carpeted paths wind through the half acre of native species and brush, including the large Slash Pine towering above.  Other plans include seventy-eight species of plants, even four protected by the State of Florida; three are bromeliad species (related to the pineapple) and one is a fern.  The Preserve offers sightings of white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, ribbon snake, big cypress fox squirrel, woodpeckers and red-shouldered hawks.


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Cocohatchee Creek Preserve entrance is easily visible from the parking lot across Veterans Parkway off of Immokalee Road.  Visitors are immediately engulfed in the lush tropical oasis with towering Slash Pines, various Palm species and panoramic dense native foliage.   The winding pathways are narrow, keeping one close to the surrounding natural beauty.  There are scenic marsh areas to the north side with lily pond patches reminiscent of Monet landscapes with a viewing area and picnic space along the waterway.  Proceeding deeper into the Preserve, there are old, majestic trees with winding, intriguing shaped limbs covered with moss and ferns – sturdy tree bases crafted by Mother Nature attract attention throughout.  In addition to fascinating trees, Florida Gopher tortoises, wading birds and wood ducks are common sightings through this lovely Preserve.


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