Lovers Key State Park Welcome and Discovery Center approaches opening
With a long, winding ramp leading up to a discovery and welcome center overlooking the Lovers Key State Park, a multimillion dollar project is nearing completion. A soft opening at a sold-out gala was planned for Thursday, with a projected date of mid-April as the opening for the public.
Educational information about manatees, dolphins, birds and sea turtles are part of a space the Friends of Lovers Key have worked to create to provide more background on the nature and wildlife seen on the trails, beaches and water in and around Lovers Key State Park.
“It reminds me of seeing pictures on a piece of paper that we wanted to create and now here it is. I look across this bridge and know that people are going to walk back and forth between the beach and this building and they will see manatees and ospreys,” said Deb Voorhees, capital campaign executive director for the Friends of Lovers Key.
“The architecture is stunning,” she said.
The park, which is outside the Town of Fort Myers Beach but within its ZIP code on Estero Boulevard, is one of the busiest in the state. The state allocated approximately $4 million for the construction of the center, provided that Friends of Lovers Key would raise the estimated $1.6 million needed to furnish the place.
According to Voorhees, about $1 million has been raised so far. Voorhees, who has been involved with the plans for last four years, said phase one of the project is about completed. The organization is still raising funds to complete other aspects of the park including a sculpture of a manatee and her baby that will go in front of the building. The organization is selling naming rights to the building as well.
Inside the welcome and discovery center, there are replicas of sea shells founds on the Lovers Key State Park beach, a timeline on the wall showing the history of the area and property, a section of wall that says things like “swim, shell and relax” and “hit the trails” on what do outdoors at the park.
The exhibits pertaining to the beach include a visual display of mangroves, a maritime hammock and coastal strand. “Coastal strands and maritime hammocks are most often lost to coastal development,” Voorhees said. Voorhees said the exhibits show “the amazing regenerative powers of nature.”
There is a community room that will have a smart board, educational videos including a documentary film, educational items in partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University and other visual materials. There are plans for a video from Turtle Time showing sea turtle hatchlings. A speaker series is envisioned for the community room as well. There will also be a gift store and catering kitchen.
The exhibits were created by Minnesota-based Split Rock Studios. Voorhees said the ideas for the exhibits were a collaboration between the Friends of Lovers Key board, environmental educators and park staff.
The handicap-accessible ramp was built to wrap around the building so as to avoid building further out onto the site and parking lot, Voorhees said. Sewer and water lines still need to be hooked up.
The Estero Island Garden Club was visiting the center this past week, speaking about plans for gardening at the site. Garden club member Bobbi Kemp was impressed with what she saw. “We are so blessed,” she said.
“This building is a love story and it’s meant to teach people to love our natural environment,” Voorhees said. “We want to encourage stewards.”