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Take 500 alligators, a 1,500-acre lake and scores of birds, and you've got the recipe for a fine outing among the flora and fauna of Florida, Immokalee-style.

Lake Trafford may be among the region's best-kept secrets, although anglers have long flocked there to fish for big bass and crappie that nourish the freshwater lake's other residents. Ski Olesky has run the Lake Trafford Marina for about 25 years. Until her death last summer, his wife, Ann, was equally devoted to the lake and worked tirelessly to preserve it. Anyone willing to clamber into an airboat for a ride will quickly see what inspired that devotion.

In just a matter of minutes after setting out in the noisy craft, visitors may get the first of many close-up glimpses of 'gators lazing in the sun, floating log-like along the water's surface or disappearing into the muck below the grass beds when a boat gets too close for comfort.

The captains on each boat, well versed in wildlife, give visitors a narrated tour during the hour-long ride.

Observant visitors are apt to see a host of birds as well, among them ibis, egrets, osprey and gallinules, as well as an occasional bald eagle soaring by or roosting in the tall grasses.

Visitors need only four things on the ride: sunscreen, bug spray, a camera-and curiosity.

Airboats & Alligators, on Lake Trafford Road in Immokalee, operates from 8 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. daily. The cost is $35 per adult (or $30 with a discount coupon available at the marina), and $18.55 for children 4 to 12 years old. Younger children ride free, and there's a 10 percent discount for seniors. Reservations aren't necessary but are recommended. Call 657-2214.

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