Buck­ing­ham Trails Pre­serve

Lee County’s his­toric park, a place for hors­ing around in par­adise

Gulf & Main - - News - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Edi­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

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.

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