The Naples Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center offers a delightful contrast to the quaint shops and sandy beaches that Naples is famous for. Tucked away along Smith Preserve Way, this unspoiled preserve is just south of the popular Naples Zoo and is listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
The Nature Center has a good balance of outdoor nature trails, ponds and preserves; buildings and facilities such as the Discovery Center, Theater and Learning Lab, and family-friendly outdoor activities including kayak rentals and eco-friendly electric boat rides.
The Work of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida was founded back in 1964, when Naples was just a small developing city. Plans were outlined to build a road through Rookery Bay, jeopardizing the land and native wildlife. Concerned residents formed an action group which successfully stopped the road. The Conservancy has since been influential in conserving over 55,000 acres of land to protect the flow of the Western Everglades.
To date, the action group has protected more than 225,000 sea turtle hatchlings and treated over 2,400 injured wild animals, returning them to the wild whenever practical. The Conservancy continues to monitor water quality and local environmental issues as well as welcoming visitors to the Nature Center, educating residents through community outreach and promoting public eco-awareness.
Visiting the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center
The flagship of the Conservancy is the 21-acre nature experience which is a popular attraction for families. It is educational for all ages with a host of natural treasures, wildlife exhibits and informative displays.
Start your visit in the theatre where you can watch a video about the work of the Conservancy. It will also help you familiarize yourself with the site. The Dalton Discovery Center is a great place to meet around 100 animals and amphibians that are native to the area, living on the beaches, in the sea or in the Everglades National Park nearby. Dare to dip your hand in the Touch Tank which has horseshoe crabs, sea stars and other living creatures for you to touch and stroke. The star of the Discovery Center is Betsy, the baby loggerhead sea turtle.
Another all-day activity is the Windfeldt Shorebird Rehab Pond where you can see pelicans, cormorants and other shorebirds recuperating around their very own pool after injury, often caused by fishing hooks and lines. If you want to lend a hand, please donate old towels, antibacterial hand soap, paper towels and laundry detergent to keep this busy facility well supplied. You can see more wildlife in rehab at the Hospital and Junior Vet Lab.
After that you’ll probably want to enjoy some fresh air and exercise along the Lagoon Trail boardwalk which is lined with 15 wildlife gardens. The Hammock Trail offers the chance to explorer mangroves, a hardwood hammock and pine flatwoods with exhibits ranging from wild coffee bushes to strangler figs. The Smith Preserve is a scrub habitat with 70 gopher tortoises and hundreds of other animals and plants to identify.
As well as taking the message of environmental conservancy out into the community, the Conservancy puts on special evening events with a series of lectures and presentations. Finally, Cinema Sunday at 1:30 p.m. is not to be missed. Follow a walk around the Nature Center with a nature movie and free popcorn for a fun day out.