CRUISING WITH THE CONSERVANCY

The setting sun casts a beautiful glow on the calm waters that reflect clouds, boats and kayaks and the surrounding trees. The only sound is wings flapping as birds make their way to rookeries already heavy with birds. “It’s beautiful and quiet, and a lovely experience,” said Loralee LeBoeuf, a Naples resident since 1999 and Conservancy of Southwest  Florida board member. “We are so busy, it’s nice to step away and have that connection with nature.”

Experiences like this are what inspired citizens to come together in 1964 to save Rookery Bay by forming the Conservancy to stop plans to build a road through Rookery Bay that would cross Gordon Pass into the Ten Thousand Islands. The road was never built, and as a result, these experiences are still available aboard the 35 passenger Good Fortune II pontoon boat led by Coast Guard-certified captains and a Conservancy naturalist.

Take a two-hour tour of Rookery Bay on a midmorning or sunset cruise and learn about the history of the area and its wildlife. It’s not unusual for guests to see osprey, bald eagles, dolphins and more. Or book a private charter for up to 35 guests that include a captain and naturalist. LeBoeuf organized a private charter for a family reunion for guests from Texas, New York and California. “It was one way to introduce my visitors to Florida and what makes Florida special,” she said. “It worked out really well and was a lovely afternoon. We really enjoyed it. I highly recommend to others looking for a real Florida experience.”

As a board member, LeBoeuf understands the importance of educating visitors and residents about the importance of the Conservancy’s work on behalf of the area’s water, land, wildlife and future EcoCruises leave from the launch site on Rookery Bay, about  10.5 miles from the Conservancy Nature Center. Reservations are required for midmorning, sunset and private cruises. Fees paid for boat trips support the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s critical mission work including wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release; sea turtle monitoring and research; clean water advocacy, and environmental education and outreach.

Located just south of Naples, Rookery Bay is one of the few undisturbed mangrove estuaries left in the United States, and one of only 28 National Estuarine Reserves. This 110,000 acres of open water, containing interconnected bays, mangrove wetlands, lagoons and streams is habitat for a vast array of wildlife, including dolphin, manatee and hundreds of species of birds. Protecting this threatened estuary was the first accomplishment of the Conservancy, founded by a group of concerned citizens, more than 50 years ago.

All proceeds benefit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s mission of protection the area’s water, land, wildlife and future. For information, prices, directions or reservations, visit conservancy.org/goodfortune.

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