Many great places of­fer out­door fun for hu­mans and ca­nines

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY ANN MARIE O’PHEL AN Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a South­west Florida res­i­dent and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

Take a Hike. But Don’t For­get Fido

The mere men­tion of the word “walk” within earshot of a dog typ­i­cally brings about a lot of cir­cling, tail wag­ging and high-pitched whin­ing. Luck­ily for dogs, and for their own­ers, there are some great places in South­west Florida where all can en­joy a good walk. One such place is Caloosa­hatchee Creeks Pre­serve in North Fort My­ers. It is com­prised of east and west sides, and leashed dogs are wel­come on both. The east side of­fers a 1.5-mile board­walk and 3 miles of prim­i­tive hik­ing trails. The west side, which charges park­ing fees, has a short hik­ing trail, a board­walk and an ob­ser­va­tion deck.

Mary Langston of Fort My­ers en­joys tak­ing her pooch, Pud­dle, on the east side for a morn­ing walk. “It’s cool and re­fresh­ing that time of day and Pud­dle loves it,” she says.

An­other great spot is Wildlife Drive, at J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge on Sani­bel Is­land. The drive stretches 4 miles from end to end one way, and of­fers the chance to see birds, wildlife and na­tive veg­e­ta­tion. Dogs must be un­der con­trol and are re­quired to be on a 6-foot leash at all times, so as to not dis­turb the wildlife.

“It’s a great way to get ex­er­cise for the whole fam­ily,” says Toni West­land, su­per­vi­sory refuge ranger, adding that it’s im­por­tant to bring wa­ter. Wildlife Drive is open daily ex­cept Fri­day. Ad­mis­sion is $5 per ve­hi­cle, and $1 per pedes­trian or bi­cy­cle.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s Lovers Key State Park on Fort My­ers Beach, where leashed dogs can en­joy a walk on the trails. “There’s also a nearby beach that is pop­u­lar for fam­i­lies and their dogs,” says Elyssa Finkel­stein, strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager with the Florida Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion. She’s re­fer­ring to Lee County Dog Beach, which bor­ders Fort My­ers Beach and Bonita Springs. When headed there, be sure to take along drink­ing wa­ter be­cause potable wa­ter is not avail­able.

In North Fort My­ers, there’s Prairie Pines Pre­serve. It of­fers a short hik­ing path for on-leash dog walk­ing. There’s also plenty of wildlife such as tur­tles, wood storks, marsh rab­bits and red-headed wood­peck­ers, along with pic­turesque prairies, flat­woods and marshes.

All told, there are 20 miles of hik­ing and eques­trian trails, which visi­tors such as John Tim­mer of Fort My­ers likes to en­joy.

“I head out be­fore it’s too hot. I like to bring my dog, Nugget, on the hik­ing path to get some fresh air and take in the scenery,” he adds.

Lastly, there’s Ro­tary Park En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter in Cape Coral. Leashed dogs are wel­come on a 2,420-foot paved loop trail that is sur­rounded by wooded ar­eas, blossoming gar­dens and a chil­dren’s play­ground, along with wildlife such as squir­rels, but­ter­flies and birds.

There is also an on-site dog park. “Shot records and reg­is­tra­tion are first re­quired for each dog,” ex­plains Honey Phillips. She is an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­cre­ation spe­cial­ist for the city of Cape Coral and adds that “in­ter­ested par­ties should in­quire at the park.”

It’s a great way to get ex­er­cise for the whole fam­ily.” —Toni West­land, su­per­vi­sory ranger at J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge

From top: Caloosa­hatchee Creeks Preser ve, Lovers Key State Park, Prairie Pines Pre­serve and J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional W ildlife Refuge are all great places to walk your dog.

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