Celebrate Valentine’s eve at benefit concert in Bonita

Laura Tichy-Smith
Special to Coastal Life

The nonprofit organization that protects the region’s lifeblood — clean water — is offering a delightful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

The Sarah Hadeka Band will perform for the CREW Land & Water Trust benefit concert in Bonita Spring’s Riverside Park on Saturday, Feb. 13.

CREW Land & Water Trust (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed) has moved its annual “friendraiser” concert in downtown Bonita Springs to Valentine’s eve on Saturday, Feb. 13.

The concert will feature two bands with contrasting styles. Journey tribute band Chain Reaction will open with a high-energy set followed by the laid-back, mellow tones of ballad singer-songwriter Sarah Hadeka and her band.

An audience member dances at the CREW Concert.

The concert features one of the most unusual silent auctions around in the form of the eco-auction that offers the opportunity to bid for one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences and handmade items.

For the Valentine’s theme this year, Sarah Hadeka is auctioning off an on-the-spot “Sarah-nade” for a couple to come onstage while she sings a special song just for them.

Food, wine and local craft beer, and Valentine roses will be available for purchase. The benefit will feature the addition of a hands-on “Kids Korner” this year.

College students hike during one of CREW’s educational programs.

‘Kids Korner’

“We’ve always had people who brought their kids to the concert, and the children aren’t able to participate with bidding in the eco-auction, so we wanted a place for them to be able to do something,” said Jessi Drummond, environmental education specialist for CREW. “Seeing it was Valentine’s eve, I thought it was a perfect time for them to do crafts and things to participate in the night.

“We wanted them to have a place to interact, have fun, and not only learn about CREW but have something they could give to their parents or friends,” she said.

The “Kids Korner” isn’t babysitting, but so long as parents stay within eyeshot of the youngster’s activity station while they dance, their children can have some kid-centric time to make Valentine’s cards and learn about nature.

The station will have activities for children ages 3-13.

Jessi Drummond, environmental education specialist for CREW Land & Water Trust, shows a baby ring-neck snake to a visitor during a hike.

“We have some cool animal track activities as well as tree cores where you can count the rings to see how old it is,” Drummond said. “We also have animal puppets, from panther cubs to ones representing the lifecycle of a frog, so lots of things for the volunteers to use to interact with the kids, talk about the plants and animals out at CREW and explain what a watershed is. The paper for the Valentine’s cards will have some educational information about CREW.”

Food and brews

Food vendors will include Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub and Jonesez BBQ, and The Rotary Club of Bonita Springs will serve as the beer and wine vendor.

An FGCU instructor leads his class during a hike at CREW Land & Water Trust.

This year, Rotary’s offerings will include Pierce's Pale Ale and 16 Degrees Celsius American Wheat Ale from Bonita’s own Momentum Brewhouse, which makes the beer with water protected by CREW.

“Ninety-eight percent of beer is water,” said Brian Hahn, Momentum’s co-founder and head brewer. “Even when I was a home brewer, I lived in Bonita Springs, and all I ever did was use a chlorine filter to take the chlorine out of the water. I still continue because the water is solid, and we get good flavors out of it without adding anything.

“I’ve had really good luck with our local water, and we really took it for granted,” Hahn said. “Like a lot of people, we didn’t realize CREW was out there and such a beautiful place until Jessi offered a hike for our brewery members, and we saw it was super impressive.”

Brenda Brooks, executive director of CREW, said she moved the concert earlier in the year in part to better facilitate one of the event’s most unique elements, the eco-auction.

Outdoor adventures

The eco-auction offers the chance to bid for many outdoor adventures not available for purchase anywhere because private individuals donate their own time and talents to help the fundraiser.

Moving the concert and auction forward a month will allow auction winners more time to enjoy their activities during season.

More than 40 unusual items will be offered, such as a private tree canopy climb on CREW land led by an FGCU professor and a handmade ghost orchid quilt. The complete list of offerings can be previewed on CREW’s website.

Also new this year will be a vending booth selling CREW merchandise, such as walking sticks that were handmade by volunteers and CREW medallion pins. All proceeds will fund CREW’s environmental-education program.

What does CREW do?

The nonprofit was established in the 1980s, after area wells started to go dry, to coordinate the necessary interactions between multiple governmental, nonprofit and private landowners in order to protect the freshwater recharge system in the environment of Southwest Florida.

CREW coordinates the acquisition, management, and public use of 50,000 acres of lands set aside for conservation in Lee and Collier counties in order to ensure that the water continues to flow to the residents of the region.

As a by-product of protecting the water flow, the undeveloped CREW lands provide wildlife habitat, an environmental education showplace and a dandy location for outdoor recreation.

The concert fundraiser is what makes it possible for the organization to host the nearly 5,000 students who visit annually.

But Brooks said she considers the concert in Bonita Springs as much a “friendraiser” as a fundraiser, since the annual field trip into town gives the staff and volunteers an opportunity to show the public the many things CREW has to offer.

“There are quite a few people who come to the CREW concert because it’s in their backyard but they don’t know anything about CREW, have never visited CREW and they just came to enjoy the music,” Brooks said. “We’re not right down the street from them, but Riverside Park is, so it gives us the venue and opportunity to take CREW and explain it to them. Hopefully, they’ll make that connection enough to care enough about CREW to want to come out and hike some of our trails.”

If you go

What: CREW Land & Water Trust benefit concert and eco-auction

When: 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13

Where: Riverside Park, 27300 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs

Cost: $15 advance; $20 at gate; free under age 12

Tickets: 657-2253; www.crewtrust.org

Suggested: Beach chair or blanket, insect repellant, light jacket, camera, cash in small denominations to purchase food, CDs, souvenirs and raffle tickets

Note: No coolers or outside food