Blueway paddling festival celebrates Southwest Florida’s history, ecology

Broaching dolphins, spotted eagle rays bursting from the water’s surface, bald eagles feasting on mullet while perched on a mangrove limb. This is where giant tarpon roll by the hundreds, where the nation’s largest wood stork population nests, where wading birds often outnumber beachgoers. It’s also the former home of the Calusa, a dominant native culture that ruled most of south Florida for centuries before Europeans arrived.

With dozens of creeks, rivers, bays, harbors, sounds and passes, Southwest Florida waterways are vast, stretching from Charlotte Harbor south to Collier County and eventually the Everglades.

For the last four years, local environmental groups and eco-tourism businesses have banded together to celebrate coastal recreation, history and culture with the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival. This year’s event, which incorporates dozens of vendors, tour guides, musicians and volunteers, will run Oct. 23-Nov. 1.

“This year we put a lot more emphasis on having our events at places where you can actually paddle up in your kayak or canoe. That way some people don’t even have to get in their cars,” says Betsy

Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival

Friday, Oct. 23

Blueway Beach Bash, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Bay Oaks Recreation Center Pool and Matanzas Pass Preserve, Fort Myers Beach

Riverfest Kick-Off Fish Fry, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Riverside Park, Bonita Springs

Saturday, Oct. 24 Imperial River Challenge, 9 a.m. Riverside Park, Bonita Springs

Blueway Festival Hub, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mound House, Fort Myers Beach

Paddlers Reception and Sunset Cruise, 5 p.m., Coconuts at Pink Shell Resort,

Fort Myers Beach

Sunday, Oct. 25

Monofilament Madness Cleanup, 8 a.m. to noon, Mound House, Fort Myers Beach, and Tarpon Point Marina, Cape Coral

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