Whether it’s beaching, kayaking, paddleboarding, trailing, birding, biking or just relaxing, you’ll find it at Lovers Key State Park. And yes, you will love it.
To the uninitiated, it might seem out of place, the 4.9-mile stretch of prime, undeveloped Southwest Florida beachfront sandwiched between the last of the towering condos of Fort Myers Beach to the first of a parade of million-dollar homes that line the shores of Little Hickory Island. But when you look closer, right about smack in the middle, there you’ll see it: the inconspicuous entrance to Lee County’s largest Gulf-front park that isn’t an island (honors to Cayo Costa).
And large Lovers Key State Park is — a total of more than 1,600 acres, of which almost 800 acres are uplands (meaning the remaining is wetlands). So that begs the question: does size really matter? In this case, most definitely yes, as nearly one million guests enjoyed the park in 2015, or approximately 2,700 visitors every day of the year that the park is open.
Gloria Beauchamp has served as park manager at Lovers Key for the past five years, and has been an employed by Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks for 15 years (including a recent stint at another romantically-titled venue, Honeymoon Island State Park in Clearwater). While nodding to the uptick in tourism since 2010, she also notes that Lovers Key is a park where guests can literally vacation for days with all that’s available to enjoy — which is perhaps why the park ranks as the number one Fort Myers Beach area attraction on TripAdvisor.
“We’re open from eight am to sunset every day of the year,” she says, “and you most certainly will not be bored.” For beach lovers, Lovers Key offers 2.5 miles of Gulf of Mexico beauty. The park offers recreational rentals including bicycles, paddleboards and kayaks. Boaters can take advantage of a fee-free boat ramp with direct access to Estero Bay for beautiful sightseeing or great fishing (bait shop on-site). If you want to explore on foot, Lovers Key offers five miles of trails for hiking, biking or dog walking. Hungry? Yes, there are concession stands, but you can also cook your own with grills, picnic areas, shelters and playgrounds to keep the little ones occupied.
“We also offer a variety of programs: fishing clinics to birding photography to the history of the Calusa Indians,” she notes. “And yes, we’ve incorporated technology into our experience set with our own geo-caching game. What better way to get kids out into nature than by way of their smart phones?”
On a recent beautiful Sunday afternoon, this writer and his family explored firsthand what so enthuses Gloria Beauchamp about her park — and she’s right. First, there are few locations in Southwest Florida where undeveloped, gorgeous sugar sand shoreline stretches (in both directions) as far as you can see. The meandering waterways for kayaks and paddleboards that you pass en route to the beach are clear and calm, offering stunning vistas of mangrove keys and wildlife. And yes, there’s even free wifi— throughout the park and on the beach — so our kids embarked on a little geocaching.
Because inquiring minds want to know, we asked — and yes, there’s a story behind the name of the park. According to legend, when the beach was only accessible by boat, the theory was that lovers would escape there to do what, well, lovers do. Gloria Beauchamp laughs. “Who’s to know? It’s a great story.”
However, there’s no denying the fact that Lovers Key State Park is a popular destination for lovers who want to be married in any number of picturesque, romantic settings — from weddings on the beach to a charming gazebo in the woods. “During season, we probably do 15 to 20 weddings per month, plus special events like birthdays and reunions,” she notes. “We’re quite active.”
Under her guidance, Lovers Key State Park has been very active in telling its story via speaking engagements, special events and media outreach. The park has the passionate support of a charitable organization as well — Friends of Lovers Key State Park — who help raise awareness and funds for short- and long-term improvements, from today’s electric carts that are positive for the environment and guests, to a long-term goal to create an education center on-site.
One of the ways Friends of Lovers Key accomplishes its mission is via events such as the upcoming Turtle Trot race on May 11. Past Trots have attracted 500 to 600 runners, who race a 5k path through the park’s trails, only to finish at the beautiful beachfront for the after-race festivities.
“Lovers Key State Park has it all,” Beauchamp says. “Over two miles of beach. Great kayaking, especially if you’re learning, with 2.5 miles of kayak trail and no boating — but a lot of manatee spotting. Stand up paddleboarding. Great birding. Great fishing and boating. Or, just park a chair and relax. Best of all, it’s just $2 per day if you enter the park walking or biking, and at most $8 for the entire day for a carload. There’s no better bargain in Southwest Florida, and no better way to spend the day.”
– Story by John Sprecher | Images by Milissa Sprecher Photography