Buckingham Trails Preserve
Lee County’s historic park, a place for horsing around in paradise
Beverly Ruck likes a leisurely ride aboard Snickers, her Paint gelding. But it has been only in the past couple of years that a wide enough spread to enjoy her hobby has presented itself on the far eastern edge of Lee County. Ruck and others on horseback, including riders with the Caloosa Saddle Club of Fort Myers, are regulars at Buckingham Trails Preserve, 572 acres managed by Lee County Parks and Recreation. Located in east Lee County in the Buckingham area, the former military base, junior college and converted preserve of mostly pine flatwoods and open scrub habitat has a 2.3-mile trail for hiking and nearly five additional miles for combined equestrian activity and hiking. “There are nice wide trails,” Ruck says of places at the preserve to walk Snickers, “and we thoroughly enjoy it. And others are just starting to find out about it.”
Along with horseback riding, Buckingham Preserve presents other opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including fishing, geocaching (treasure hunts), picnicking, botany, birding and nature photography. Wildlife officers report an assortment of critters to observe and photograph at the preserve, such as spoonbills, eagles and the occasional feral hog. It is also one of the last vestiges of isolation in Southwest Florida, allowing visitors a place to escape and imagine what things were like before the explosive growth of Florida.
There’s also plenty of history to explore here. The preserve is a smidge of the much larger Buckingham Army Airfield that in the 1940s sprawled across thousands of acres. It was a gunnery training school of some 700 buildings, of runways, aircraft, housing, rail lines and thousands of soldiers and civilians. It cost the government millions to drain the land, build canals and prep the infrastructure, according to accounts. Only a few remnants remain of the fixtures that once included a rail line where moving targets were placed for the pilots to practice gunnery. Postcard reproductions of the airfield show a much different time, sharing with the recipient “Greetings from the Flexible Gunnery School of Fort Myers, Fla.” The postcard depicts warplanes flying over a lush boulevard of palms and orange-petaled poincianas.
Four trapshooting bunkers also remain on-site, along with two jeep tracks that were used for target practice. An elevated
The county’s restoration work at the preserve has included removing and minimizing the spread of several invasive exotic plant species.
berm that once served as part of the former military supply railroad is still evident. A cattle lease also exists at the preserve, with much of the northwestern corner of the property used for agricultural grazing. The longer goal is to restore the entire tract to “a more natural community,” according to the county.
Lee Waller, land stewardship coordinator for Lee County Parks and Recreation with oversight of Buckingham Preserve and other such parks, says the parcel was purchased for about $12.5 million in 2008, part of the Lee County Conservation 20/20 Land Program, the continuation of which was placed on the ballot and was approved by voters in November.
The county’s restoration work at the preserve has included removing and minimizing the spread of several invasive exotic plant species, including dense stands of melaleuca, Brazilian pepper and Australian pine. In the southwest corner of the preserve, a small cypress head that was previously clogged with melaleuca is now more open and natural. Additionally, along the southern and eastern boundaries, habitat is now improved to support gopher tortoises, a state-listed protected species, Waller says. Visitors “love the preserve,” Waller adds, “and the historic aspect just makes it even better.”
Buckingham Preserve is at 8790 Buckingham Road, Fort Myers. Details are at leegov.com.
Along with horseback riding, Buckingham Preserve presents other outdoor opportunities such as botany, birding and nature photography.
Riders with the Caloosa Saddle Club of Fort Myers and others on horseback enjoy miles of pathways at the Buckingham Trails Preserve.