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Cazlusa Blue Paddling Festival starts

By Staff | Oct 20, 2009

SPECIAL TO THE BREEZE The Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival has become a popular area event.

The fourth annual Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival is set to showcase kayaking and eco-related events along Southwest Florida’s waterways Oct. 23 through Nov. 1. On Friday, Oct. 30, there will be an encore of the Upriver RV Resort and Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve event in North Fort Myers highlighting fun facts of our Blueway.

The 10-day festival offers an array of speakers and instruction, cultural and eco festivals, races and fishing events, paddlers’ get-togethers and green activities. Events are at public parks and archeological sites as well as resorts and campgrounds along the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, a 190-mile marked-and-meandering saltwater trail that spans the Lee County coast from Bonita Springs to Pine Island and inland to Alva.

At the North Fort Myers event, local Paddlecreeek Outfitters owner John Socha will be a speaker, along with representatives from Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, Manatee Park and Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve Rangers.

“UpRiver Resort is hosting and putting together the event, and they are right on the Blueways,” said Calusa Blueway Coordinator Betsy Clayton.

It was a popular event last year and only costs $1.

“But we are asking people to call with a reservation so we know how many are coming,” she said.

That event starts at 9 a.m. hosted by Upriver RV Resort and Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve staff. The location is 17021 Upriver Drive, and the number to call to register for that event is 543-3330.

For information on all the events, a new designated phone line will be set up to answer day-to-day questions.

“We have a hotline this year – 823-6335 – and will have volunteers staff it live during the festival,” Clayton said. “For now, leave a message and we’ll call you back.”

Also new this year is a wristband for participants offering discounts.

“We have a VIP wrist program this year, which means for a $10 donation to the Blueway they get a souvenir wristband for discounts that are good for use at 80 businesses throughout Southwest Florida,” Clayton said. “It will be good at a variety of galleries and shops, outfitters and outdoor stores, attractions, restaurants and retail outlets. Plus we have some service provides, like spas.”

The festival is part of Islands Fall Fest, she continued, adding that it is the perfect “stay-cation.” You can join friends from out of town or just book yourself a fun place to stay. Local hotels will offer special packages to travelers with paddlecraft, including ready-at-sunrise box lunches and access to ice machines and hoses.

Or you can book yourself into a campground right along the trail at a site that includes a guided tour with the Florida Paddling Trail Association to historic Mound Key, an island once inhabited by the Calusa king. There’s also the Calusa Costume Ball, moonlight hike and other evening hospitality events at which prizes will be raffled.

And of course, there are the races. Two canoe/kayak races and a catch-and-release fishing tournament are planned; some have cash prizes.

There’s even a geocaching event on the Caloosahatchee.

“It’s like hide-and-seek with GPSs,” Clayton said. “You use a GPS for a modern-day treasure hunt at a Cape Coral-based waterfront event. You don’t have to know how to show up. People will learn how at the event.”

That event takes place in Cape Coral Oct. 25 at The Resort at Marina Village/Tarpon Point.

If you are eco-spirited, you can help with a countywide waterway marine debris cleanup called Monofilament Madness.

Here are highlights from featured events from Clayton and staff:

Monofilament Madness: Rid the blueway of nasty discarded fishing line and join in Keep Lee County Beautiful’s annual waterway cleanup. Return to one of three sites to tally your trash and enjoy a free lunch. (Oct. 25)

Geocaching: Use a GPS for a modern-day treasure hunt at a Cape Coral- based waterfront event. The Resort at Marina Village/Tarpon Point (Oct. 25).

Yak it up with fish: The annual catch-and-release fishing tournament kicks off Halloween weekend with a Prawn Broker captain’s meeting in Fort Myers and a tournament digital weigh-in at Randell Research Center, Pineland. Hey anglers, did we mention Tarpon Lodge is across the street? (Oct. 30- 31)

Roll up your sleeves and race: Competitive events on the Imperial River kick off the festival with the annual Paddle of the Pass in Matlacha wrapping it up. (Oct. 24 and Nov. 1)

Explore cultural sites: Pick a Saturday and learn about the seafaring people for whom the blueway is named. Mound House on Fort Myers Beach and Randell Research Center at Pineland celebrate the Calusas and will be hubs for the festival’s two weekends with speakers, food, activities and eco-fun. (Oct. 24 and Oct. 31)

Nighttime fun: There’s practically something for every sunset you’re here. Join in a gulf-front complimentary happy hour with Canoe & Kayak magazine and Sea Kayaker magazine at Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach, (Oct. 24). Dress up as a pirate, sea wench or native for the Calusa Costume Ball at Tarpon Lodge, Pine Island, (Oct. 30).

Enjoy Southern hospitality while raising funds to help a river at a Bonita Springs fish fry, (Oct. 23). Did someone say Blueway Beach Bash? (Oct. 23).

Club happenings: Bring a boat or just yourself for the picnic and pig roast for kayaking clubs and enthusiasts from around the Southeast, (Oct. 25). Hear from the first circumnavigator of Florida – in a kayak, that is, (Oct. 24). Meet the man who mapped the trail, (Oct. 25). Come for bluegrass and raffles, socializing and sunset paddling at San Carlos RV Park & Island Resort, (Oct. 25).

Paddlers’ packages and lodging: Certified green hotels are on board. Packages abound with extras like drinks-for-two included, access to freshwater hoses, a guided tour of a historic site, a laminated nautical chart as a welcome gift and more. Tell a friend to come from out of town, or treat yourself. The blueway fest is part of Islands Fall Fest. Check it out at www.fortmyers-sanibel.com

There’s so much information, you can check www.CalusaBluewayPaddlingFestival.com to get it all, Clayton said, or call the hotline at 823-6335.