Just a short drive south east of Naples Florida, maybe about half an hour away depending on traffic, is Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. 35,000 acres of mangroves, marshes, keys, waterways, and wildlife. Teeming with an abundance of birds, fish, sea turtles, manatees… black bears, panthers, snakes…. alligators… Yes there are predators in attendance as well. So mind your step.
Don’t get the wrong idea however. I’m not trying to scare you off visiting. Ten thousand islands isn’t akin to Jurassic park after the fences have gone down. But you need to be mindful that this is a nature preserve. With the mission of preserving all the areas native species. Including the ones at the top of the food chain. So there is always the chance… that things with big teeth could be nearby.
I learned about the preserve from my cousin Wendi. Who suggested the pup and I might enjoy hiking to the Observation tower. Apparently there is fishing, canoeing kayaking, beaches, camping and more all available in the preserve. But the easiest and most accessible way to enjoy a few hours with nature is the Marsh trail. Which has a parking lot just off of US-41 (aka Tamiami Trail E) at the trail’s head. Where you can park and hop right onto the path.
The Marsh trail is the only hiking trail available to walk. And at just 1.2 miles there isn’t as much ground to cover as in a state or national park. But those 1.2 miles are packed full of wildlife to observe. Which is actually kinda nice. Because it’s not easy to cover a whole lot of miles when your lungs aren’t cooperating. Just be aware that the trail isn’t a loop. So if you walk to end… you’ve still got to turn around and make the trip back. For a grand total of 2.4 miles.
Something else of benefit to those of us with funky working lungs. Is the fact that the observation tower is only about a third of the way down the trail. Meaning there and back to your car will only be about 0.8 miles. With the added bonus that the Marsh trail is paved… From the parking lot up to where the observation tower awaits. Plus it’s Florida so it’s flat! Meaning things should be easy peasy as far as rollators, wheelchairs, and oxygen pull carts are concerned.
Past the Observation tower however; the pavement come to an end. While the trail continues on, covered in well packed gravel. And remaining pretty level the whole way. Some stretches could benefit from a fresh application of gravel. Depending on one’s endurance and oxygen supply… It should be doable by folks needing rollators, wheelchairs, or carts. But its going to be quite a bit rougher. Just like any other gravel surface when smaller wheels are involved.
My biggest reservation against recommending anyone with pulmonary fibrosis (wheels or not), hiking past the Observation tower… Is the low number of spots to stop and catch one’s breath. In that regard having a wheelchair or rollator would actually be a benefit. But even if you stick to the pavement and only make it to the tower and back. I think this is a nice place to get out and enjoy life a little bit. I personally was stopping to snap a picture every few feet it seemed.
Though when Marin and I stumbled across one rather large gator on our walk back… sun bathing right next to the path. We had to stand there, patently waiting for him to decide it was time to move along. And when he finally did move, lumbering like a dino across the path. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t manage to get any photos, til he was slipping into the water on the other side. Go-pro in hand and I completely neglected to film this big felluh crossing my path. Total failure on my part..
Thankfully however; that is not how I responded with the rest of the wildlife we saw. while marching along the marsh trail. And there really was a lot to see. I can only imagine how much more there is to be discovered on a kayak or air-boat trip through the marsh.
While I can’t say the Marsh trail alone is worth making a long trip to southern Florida for. I will say that if you are already in the area, near Naples perhaps, or simply crossing Florida via US-41. And you have the oxygen to spare for a rather easy going adventure… Then I would make the time to visit.
Living with an interstitial lung disease can be depressing enough. Top that off with never seeing anything but the same old rooms, the same boring car interior, the same bland doctors offices… and life start to lose all it’s flavor. I’ve seen it cause fellow patients to start questioning if the next breath is really worth fighting for.
The simple answer remains that it is… Yes, living with damaged lungs is a struggle. Yes it has it’s limitations. But we shouldn’t pass up the things we can do. The things that can break up the drudgery of our illnesses. We should try and find them everywhere we look. Never ever give up hope… it’s free and it will make a world of difference in your struggles.
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge – Marsh Trail 21004 Tamiami Trail E, Naples, FL 34114
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