Families walk Rookery Bay's 'Snail Trail' and explore nature on Earth Day

Susanna Gates, 6, stands by the Rookery Bay mascot, the batfish, before heading out on the Snail Trail for a guided nature walk.

Photo by LAURA GATES // Buy this photo

Susanna Gates, 6, stands by the Rookery Bay mascot, the batfish, before heading out on the Snail Trail for a guided nature walk.

What: Dive into Oceans Day

Where: Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

When: Saturday, April 30

Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: $5 adults; $3 children 6-12

In celebration of Earth Day, several families headed to Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center Friday to learn about the fascinating plants and creatures in our local ecosystem.

“Learning more about the natural world is something that is very important,” said Alison Haynes, a certified interpreter who led a small group along the half-mile Snail Trail. “The more you know about it, the better off you are. I’d like every day to be Earth Day.”

As part of the day’s themed programming, Haynes shared nature trivia about palms, pines and bromeliads, using her well-work hiking stick as a pointer. The newly opened Snail Trail meanders through pine flatwoods as well as wetlands.

“We have these two completely different ecosystems right here together,” Haynes explained, noting just a few inches difference in elevation determines which types of vegetation will thrive.

Clara Alber often takes her young daughters, Celina and Alessandra, to Rookery Bay to look at the sea creatures in the petting tank and to watch for fluttering colors in the butterfly garden.

“I couldn't think of a better way to spend Earth Day than out there in the beauty of the local habitat,” Alber said. “We are nature lovers, and when we can, we spend time in the great outdoors as a family.”

Although the hour-long guided walk proved tiring for some of the youngsters in the crowd, Haynes left visitors with plenty of fun facts: air plants are related to pineapples; Florida pines need forest fires to survive; and the only purpose for a male fiddler crab’s giant claw is to attract a mate.

“The guide was truly remarkable in her explanations and took great care in explaining to my daughters about all the sea life in the tanks,” Alber said.

Chris and Debbie King brought their daughter and a friend to Rookery Bay for an educational experience before heading to the beach. The family from New York frequently visits relatives in Naples.

“We always try to do something like this,” said Debbie, who leads a Girl Scout Cadet troop.

Rookery Bay will offer another day of environmental fun next Saturday with its “Dive into Oceans Day.” The highlight of this event will be trying SCUBA in a 17,000-gallon “Be a Diver” pool. Anyone over 10 years and 54 inches is invited dive in and try out the equipment used by marine biologists.

“The focus of the day is career-oriented but also hands-on science and fun,” said Education Coordinator Sarah Falkowski.

About 400 middle school students will be exploring ocean life on Thursday and Friday, with the exhibit opening to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, she said. Highlights include a live alligator from Florida Fish and Wildlife and a spiny lobster presentation by Officer Thomas Van Trees, who is featured on Animal Planet’s “Operation Wild.”

Lee Memorial Hospital will be presenting information about drowning prevention, and a lab tour will include an experiment on ocean acidification.

The Earth Day events drew a larger than normal crowd, and Falkowski is expecting even more for Dive into Oceans Day. “It’s a really fun day,” she said.

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