Edison & Ford Winter Estates
When: Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., daily (last tour leaves at 4 p.m.)
Where: 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers
Cost: Prices depend on tour you take, $12 to $24 for adults, $5 to $11 for children ages 6 to 12
Information: (239) 334-7419, www.efwefla.org
When we think of vacation we focus on far-off locales, often forgetting that we have peaceful places and unique stories in our own backyard.
On a recent day off, my family and I headed up to Fort Myers to visit Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in the morning and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in the afternoon. It’s a perfect day-trip.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
When: Open daily 8 a.m. to sunset, daily
Where: 7751 Penzance Blvd., Fort Myers (off Six Mile Cypress Parkway)
Cost: Free to enter, parking costs $1 per hour or a maximum of $5 per visit
Information: (239) 533-7550, www.leeparks.org/sixmile
When driving to this Six Mile Cypress Slough, I really thought we’d made a wrong turn.
It seems impossible that there is a 2,500-acre preserve between traffic-congested Daniels Boulevard and Colonial Parkway. But there it is.
When you get there, you’ll find a visitor center, picnic area and 1.2-mile boardwalk trail. It’s free to enter, but parking costs $1 per hour — though the most you’ll be charged is $5, no matter how long you stay.
Grab a bottle of water, your binoculars and camera and head onto the boardwalk trail. If you like to know about what you’re walking through, pick up a copy of the park’s brochure for a narrative about the different areas: Pine flatwoods, hardwood transition, flag pond, hammock and cypress slough.
The twisty boardwalk will take you into the forest, past a large lake and around a few smaller ponds. At first you might hear traffic rushing by on nearby Six Mile Cypress Parkway, but it will soon fade. This slough (pronounced “slew”) is a 9-mile-long and 1/3-mile-wide swath of quiet, preserved land between busy roads and subdivisions.
During the wet season months of June through October, the slough becomes a wide, shallow stream of fresh water about two or three feet deep. It flows through the preserve and empties into the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.
But now, at the tail end of the dry season, water becomes more concentrated in the preserve’s pond areas — so you’ll see large groups of birds and animals coming together to feed. On our recent visit, we spotted everything from flocks of wood storks and 10 baby alligators to great blue, green, tri-colored and little blue herons. It’s worth the trip.
The preserve also offers an interactive visitor center and guided nature walks for adults and children.
When you were in grade school you probably learned about Thomas Edison’s lightbulb and Henry Ford’s Model T.
The life’s work of these two men changed our country and the world — and they, like many northerners, loved South Florida winters.
Take a trip to the estates and you’ll wander around the estate’s botanical gardens, the home where Edison and his wife Mina stayed, the swimming pool Edison built in the early 1900s and the nearby house called the Mangoes where the Ford family stayed.
The homes are large, wooden buildings with large front porches and beautiful gardens, and the property overlooks the Caloosahatchee river.
Across MacGregor boulevard, you’ll get a peek inside Edison’s botanic research laboratory, where the inventor worked to find a source of natural rubber from a plant that could be grown in the U.S. The venture was paid for by Edison, Ford and Harvey Firestone, who realized during World War I that if the country’s supply of rubber was cut off it would cost their industries a lot of money.
Near the lab, you’ll see a gigantic banyan tree that has grown to more than an acre in diameter, which the museum says is the second-largest in the world. It grew from a four-foot banyan that Harvey Firestone gave Edison in 1925.
General admission for the homes, gardens, lab and museum includes a self-guided audio tour. If you’re interested in the botanical gardens, there are guided tours two days a week. Or, you can pay less to see the laboratory and museum only.
They sell guidebooks for $3 when you buy your tickets or $5 at the museum store, but free maps and information about each many of the buildings is also available.