By Tim Horvatich
The Florida State Park System and Lovers Key State Park are pleased to announce that the newly constructed Lovers Key State Park Welcome & Discovery Center will open to the public on Saturday, May 15.
The new Lovers Key Welcome and Discovery Center building is complete and the Phase I exhibits have been installed. The Center is now ready to open to the public. The structure rises from pristine habitat and will serve to educate and inform visitors to Lovers Key State Park. An impressive exhibit hall features the many different habitats in the park. Professionally designed interpretive and interactive displays immerse visitors and cultivate the desire to explore the areas depicted in the park.
The large Community Room compliments the exhibits and gives the Park its first indoor space to conduct classes, programs and hold events. State of the art projection and audio equipment has been installed to enhance the experience. One of the key areas of the facility will be a 2,100 square feet exhibit hall with a centerpiece display at the entrance to the exhibit area introducing the dynamic nature of barrier islands. This area is designed to bring the entire park and its treasures to life. The exhibit hall offers a variety of exhibits that explore these barrier islands with their diversity of habitats, wildlife and plants. Visitors can get an overview of the park as it is today and also select different time frames to display how the barrier islands at Lovers Key have shifted and moved over the past 50 years.
The beach is what brings many visitors to Lovers Key State Park. But the beach is so much more than swimming and sunbathing. The exhibits allow visitors to look at the unique habitat and wildlife that can be found along the park’s coastal shore. Upon entering the hall, you are greeted by a large interactive map which helps to orient the visitor and also demonstrates how the islands encompassing Lovers Key State Park continue to change over the years. To the left of the entrance, you will find the History/Timeline exhibit. It highlights the key inhabitants, activities, and key moments in the history of the area culminating in the establishment of Lovers Key State Park in 1998. The story is told not only through photos and text, but also through the voices and memories of the people who lived through it. To the right, you will see the information counter which is a re-creation of an early 1900s coastline fishing shack.
Further on, you will encounter the “Waters Edge” exhibit. There you will learn about the shore line and the critical part that the “wrack line” plays in supporting shore birds and the broader ecosystem. You can peer below the surface to see what creatures live out of sight below the sand and learn more about the shells that cover its surface. You can examine sand up close to see the amazing and beautiful minerals that compose the beach and then discover how the root systems of pioneer and other tenacious plant species help hold the dunes in place. The “Beach and Dunes” exhibit offers insight into the importance of this ecosystem. It displays how the sea oats which grow in this region are a critical feature which protects the coastline from large powerful storms and the wave action that cause beach erosion. It also highlights the important role this area plays in the nesting and reproduction of endangered shore birds.
At the north end of the hall, you will find the “Recreation” exhibit. This area highlights all the recreational opportunities that are available in the park. Most visitors come to enjoy the sun and surf on the beach but the park has so much more to offer visitors. There are hiking and biking trails, kayaking and canoeing in the endless and more remote back channels, great fishing on the gulf coast or in the back bay off the bridges and piers, ranger lead walks and programs, beach combing and shelling. This exhibit serves as a launching pad to direct visitors into a rich and enjoyable visit that goes beyond the beach. The Welcome & Discovery Center also will be home to The Nature Nook, a small gift shop celebrating the artistry of local artists, filled with books, beautiful wall art, amazing handmade jewelry, pottery, and much more.
There are lots of fun and interesting things to see and do in this new space at Lovers Key State Park.
On May 15, stop by and visit the artist in residence, Jenny M. Licht, in the outdoor classroom from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., where she will be hosting a free pop-up, plein air art demonstration.
Jenny will share with everyone her love of our beautiful Southwest Florida environment by creating art on site at the outdoor classroom. On the hour starting at 11 am for the first 10 people to sign up each hour, she will offer a free art class; Painting a Palm and Beach Scene on Sea Grape Leaf. Art work can be framed after artwork has dried. All supplies provided.
Though the center is opening with the Phase I exhibits, there are still more fundraising needs to complete the next phase of exhibits and to fund the ongoing operating expenses. Visit online at www.friendsofloverskey.org for more details and to make a donation. For additional information on exhibit sponsorships, contact Tina Tyler, VP of Donor Development at 612-562-7538.
Lovers Key State Park will host the opening day of the new Welcome and Discovery Center May 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Regular hours will be Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Lovers Key State Park is located at 8700 Estero Blvd., Bonita Springs.