A kaleidoscope of light dances across a strand of cypress trees and shimmers off the tannic water at their bases. There is a reverent silence accompanied by the distant call of a bird or a pine cone softly dropping onto the slowly-moving water. A group of students stand in the waist-deep water looking up into the trees. They are campers of the Summer Naturalist Camp at Six Mile Cypress Slough and their assignment is to find a word that describes this place.
“They call this place ‘the cathedral,’ said Rudy Lampron, a volunteer naturalist a Six-Mile-Cypress Slough. “It elicits a lot of good feelings, things that people wouldn’t expect here.”
The campers described it as “peaceful,” “awesome” and “cool.” There were no snakes or alligators in the water, but mostly insects and aquatic species. Orchids bloom during different seasons and lichen grows on trees, an indication of good air quality.
For many, a walk through Six Mile Cypress would be a trek by boardwalk consisting of beautiful surroundings and dry feet. The 1.2-mile boardwalk winds through the 2,500-acre wetland in Fort Myers allowing visitors access to the many plant and animal species that call the Slough their home.
But the campers of the naturalist camp, July 13 to 17, had a chance to get a little closer to nature. Their final day of camp began with a wet walk on a underwater path through the slough.
“The goal is to bring kids closer to nature and to encourage a respect and a reverence for nature,” said Heather Gienapp, Sr. Program Specialist for Lee County Parks and Recreation at Six Mile Cypress Slough. “Hopefully the campers get a chance to get up close to some of the larger cypress trees and just experience the beauty of the slough not on a man made structure.”
Gienapp led the group of a dozen students along a path that wound its way through the different communities of the slough.
“They call this the land of inches,” Lamprong said. “You can tell where you are at by the plants that grow in that area. There may only be a difference of six to eight inches.”
The path began near the flag pond, with ankle deep water, and plenty of sunshine. The ephemeral pond was in bloom with many varieties of aquatic plants, but often in the dry season there is no water.
The path made it’s way through the hardwood transition where oaks and other trees could be found on the higher, dryer sides of the stream.
Finally campers found themselves in the cathedral at the heart of the cypress slough where the water came well above the waist. This cool, shady, place is more of a river through trees.
The water here comes from a 33-square-mile watershed. The plants and animals of the Slough filter the water as it slowly runs toward Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.
During the week-long Naturalist camp, students studied the different species and ecosystems of the slough.
“We introduced them to the slough and what is so special about it,” Gienapp said. “It is such a different experience than what you expect it to be from watching TV and movies.”
There were lessons and games focused on birds, insects and plants and also activities that dealt with green living.
“We introduced them to the fact that they can make choices in their everyday life by eating healthy, or what it means to choose paper or plastic,” Gienapp said.
By the time the students made it to their we walk on Friday, they were able to identify apple snail eggs and diving spiders, along with many other species of the Slough.
“The water here is very clean, they can see through it, it is clear; you see the tannins in the water and it looks like a big cup of tea,” Gienapp said. “What I’m hoping they see is the beauty of the slough.”
Information on Six Mile Cypress Slough is available at www.leeparks.org/sixmile/