Living Well

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers is Our Editors Favorite Greenspace

Three Gulfshore Life editors muse on the magic of the preserve, right off Fort Myers' busy Daniels Parkway.

BY May 1, 2024
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
(Courtesy Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve/Landon Snider)

A love of Southwest Florida’s swampy, beachy landscapes is basically a prerequisite for working at Gulfshore Life. Our team is finely attuned to the fact that nature beckons from all sides. Amid the barrage of interviews, emails and edits filling our days, we like to punctuate our work weeks with outdoor exploration. When talking about our favorite local places for this issue, one roadside sanctuary repeatedly came up: Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve.

The 3,500-acre wetland preserve stands as a testament to locally driven conservation and nature’s resilience, drawing city-weary visitors with its canopy of cypress trees towering above a 1.2-mile boardwalk.

On a Tuesday morning in early March, three of our editors got together to wax poetic about the Slough’s many charms and why the urban greenspace has us all captivated.

Melanie Warner Spencer: When my husband and I moved from New Orleans to Fort Myers last fall, we were thrilled to be 15 minutes from the preserve. On our first visit, we were struck by the abundance of wildlife. Even though the park is just off the busy Six Mile Cypress Parkway, at dusk, with the flocks coming in to roost, all we could hear was birdsong and the rustle of cypress leaves. 

Addison Pezoldt: I first visited in December 2022 after Hurricane Ian swept through the area. Even with fallen trees, I was blown away by the sanctuary’s beauty. It was like a homecoming for me. I recognized the white ibis and bromeliads from growing up near West Palm Beach. Still, this place, with tall grasses and cypress trees sprouting from all directions,  was wilder and less manicured than anything I’d seen on the East Coast.

Stephanie Granada: Same—I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and didn’t have much of a concept of this verdant, inland landscape. The East Coast has been so built up that it’s hard to find refuges that show the other side of Florida’s beauty—the forests and swamps. After college, I left Florida and thought I never wanted to live here again. That is until I found this slice of Southwest Florida, where forests, like the one in the preserve, are never far away.

The Slough’s beginnings reflect the grassroots efforts that have helped preserve many of our local greenspaces. In the 1970s, when the federal and state governments refused to purchase the land to safeguard it from development, high school students (dubbed the ‘Monday Group’) created a tax referendum to help fund the buy.

AP: It’s fascinating—the interpretive center was the first LEED-certified Green Building in Lee County for its small footprint, sustainable materials and energy-saving strategies. The architect, Jeff Mudgett, was a key Monday Group member and came back years later to helm the project. It’s great to see how the conservation effort continues to be locally driven. The Friends of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve nonprofit helps maintain the space, and volunteers lead frequent tours. I’ve been wanting to do their wet walks, where you get off the trail and into the wetland.

The wetland plays a huge role in protecting our water quality, capturing rainwater and filtering pollutants before the water flows out to Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. When building the boardwalk, the development team ensured the path followed existing wildlife tracks to minimize impact. You walk quietly, slowly and observantly to spot the animals that call the preserve home, from turtles to alligators to white-tailed deer. From the moment you walk in, the Slough sets the tone—a sign at the entrance reads “Entering a Quiet Zone.”

SG: I like to stop at different places and look down into the water for a few minutes to see what may emerge. The longer you look out at any spot, the more you’ll see.

AP: I love that throughout the boardwalk, there are benches, overlooks and quotes from different nature-loving scientists, writers and artists posted at key junctions. It forces you to stop and reflect.

SG: I wonder how they chose the quotes. I like the more obscure ones, like “My heart is tuned to the quietness that the stillness of nature inspires,” by Indian Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan. And, the Native American proverb (believed to be from the Sioux tribe): “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives,”—that’s a good one for us to consider.

Ample bodies of water offer great animal watching. You might see otters splashing in a creek in the early mornings and hear tufted titmice chirping before sunset when feathered friends return to their nests. Some of our favorite spots on the trail are tucked-away gems.

MWS: There’s an overlook by Gator Lake where you get an expansive view of the water and see cormorants resting on these little floating platforms. Typically, the water is very placid. Sitting on a bench or leaning against the railing, letting my eyes rest on the horizon, offers me a meditative moment.

AP: My favorite section—which might be a surprising choice since there isn’t much wildlife there—is the South Shelter, a resting spot overlooking abundant grasses and vegetation. It feels so wild, like the land’s existing how it’s meant to. There’s a piece of a tree trunk that attached itself to the roof as it grew. It makes me think of how we’re supposed to live harmoniously with nature.

SG: There’s this stretch along the boardwalk where a sea of ferns weaves among the skinny cypress trees. I love being enshrouded by the canopies. The feathery plants make it look like it’s straight out of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, all lush and enchanting.

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve Wildlife
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is where our editors go to get lost in Southwest Florida’s swampy wilderness—and in their own thoughts. Grassroots efforts created the conservation area, where a 1.2-mile boardwalk winds through wild grasses and past ponds, revealing abundant wildlife. (Photos Courtesy Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve/Kaya Hammond, Sara Maliva, Chuck Pavlick, Lori Starr, Dan Bacalzo, Jeremy Greenfield, Kelsey Lang, Richard Burwell; Courtesy Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau/Jason Boeckman)

As you travel through the forest, you’ll meet people from all walks of life. The boardwalk’s accessibility ramp and rest areas ensure people with varying levels of mobility can access the entire preserve, which is not always the case when venturing out in nature. It’s a sacred space that inspires camaraderie as people strike up whispered conversations.

MWS: My husband and I met a couple visiting from Maine when we were all captivated by a woodpecker about midway through the trail. Other folks stopped to watch him, too. The woodpecker’s flaming red crest ducked in and out of sight as he whittled into the tree, and we loved seeing his black and white plumage bobbing up and down. It’s wonderful to share these moments. Even if it’s people you may never see again, you have this shared experience of humanity, of appreciating the natural world that surrounds us.

No matter when you venture out into the Slough, you’re bound to find something new. Different seasons and times of day bring new experiences. The morning is misty and quiet, while the day’s end sees a buzz of activity as screech owls awaken and bobcats are on the hunt.

AP: Sometimes, I think, ‘I’m here to find something new in myself, too.’ Do I plug my headphones in, play The Lord of the Rings soundtrack and imagine I’m lost in Middle-earth? Or do I start conversations with the birders and nature photographers? The experience changes, but the Slough is always there.

SG: I’ve gone early in the morning when I can get in a run before there’s anybody on the trail. But, mostly, we go in search of the calm. We like going on New Year’s Day to start the year from a place of intention.

MWS: Every moment at the Slough is whatever you want it to be—truly.  

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