With hundreds of thousands of acres of conservation lands sprawling east toward the center of the state Collier County has an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities. Several world-class locations with “State” or “National” in their names can provide amazing wilderness experiences for those willing to drive some distance and invest the better part of a day. There are also some smaller venues rather conveniently located that provide just the right amount of nature if you know where to find them, and one such park is LASIP Mitigation Park off Collier Boulevard in East Naples.
Opened in 2011, the LASIP Mitigation Park is operated by Collier County Parks & Recreation. Constructed with Florida Forever funds from the Florida Communities Trust the park provides a wonderful window into the natural world that once flourished across the region. It encompasses 99 acres of restored cypresses, grassy meadows and hydric pine flatwoods that had previously been infested with melaleuca trees and other invasive exotic species. It was part of a mitigation project for the Lely Area Stormwater Improvement Plan (LASIP).
Located just north of Rattlesnake Hammock Road, the park has a small parking area that can be accessed daily from 7 am to dusk. At the head of the mile-long walking trail there is a raised picnic platform and signs educating visitors about the park. Here, the slash pine forest envelops a sun-dappled, golden grass meadow. Hardwood trees and shrubs such as dahoon holly and American beautyberry provide colorful sprays of berries that are very attractive to wildlife. Click here to see a slideshow of birds and the park’s attributes.
Depending on the time of year it is possible to see a variety of woodland birds. Year round residents include red-bellied woodpecker, eastern bluebird and Carolina wren, while winter brings blue-gray gnatcatcher, pine and palm warblers, and even hummingbirds. Insects are everywhere as well, with countless types of caterpillars munching, beetles scurrying, and butterflies hurrying by. Bees and dragonflies alight on abundant wildflower bouquets of coreopsis, asters, and goldenrod.
Despite its proximity to development, this jewel of a park can provide an enjoyable getaway without crowds, tour guides, entry fees or a long drive. This small escape from reality is perfect for a family or individual solitude, and the price is right: free. Garbage and recycling bins are welcome reminders to “leave no trace” when visiting natural areas. Don’t forget to bring a camera!