Southwest Florida is full of hidden gems so it's easy, even for someone like myself who has lived here for over 18 years to say I have never been to a specific location considered as an attraction.
Which is very much the case with the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers, Florida. I had passed by it numerous times, even read the signs about the guided tours but honestly, with so many great beaches, local restaurants to try out, horse riding, not to mention all of the local events that happen in Southwest Florida, sometimes is hard to keep up with everything that there is to do in the area.
Now, let me start by explaining what a slough is. According to the Boardwalk Trail Guide provided by the Lee County Parks and recreation, a slough is a type of forested wetland with slowly flowing freshwater and it is important to cities because it helps store water from rain during heavy rain season and it also provides a sanctuary for plants and local wildlife, hence, preserving water and air quality not just for animals but residents as well.
We visited the preserve on a Sunday afternoon in September, you can also watch the video on my youtube channel, but the reason why I am telling you this is because depending on the time of the year you visit, the slough may look completely different or you may even want to pick different hours of the day to explore the preserve.
For example, you may want to take into consideration the seasons of the slough which are dry; from December through May, and wet season; from June to November, as well as the sunset and sunrise hours as that determines what time the slough is open for the public.
One of the things that really fascinates me about the preserve, besides all the wild life you can find there, is the history of how the Six Mile Cypress Slough became a preserved area. It was through the efforts of a team of high school students who came together back in the 1970's with one goal in mind: get enough signatures on their petition to get the preservation of the slough in the ballot, allowing local residents to vote whether to preserve the lands in the six miles cypress area or not.
Well, the rest is history and today the slough holds about 3,500 acres and it is 11 miles long.
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Although we visited the preserve with three children (two of them under three) and some of the tips given by the preserve team itself were a bit hard for our family of five to follow, we had a blast and were even able to capture a picture of a cottonmouth/water moccasin snake.
Here are some tips and information that can serve you and your family well if you want to get the most wild life action during your visit, some of them such as the secret to slough sighting are provided by the park itself, which consists of a team of experts on Florida wildlife and environment.
7 secrets to Slough Sighting
1 - Be as quiet as possible
Animals are afraid of people and will hide or run away if they hear you approach
2 - Walk slowly
Slowing your pace automatically quiets your walk. Many more things will be visible to you because you won't be rushing by.
3 - Watch for movement and listen patiently
Pay attention to the movement you catch out of the corner of your eye
4 - Keep your eyes ahead moving in all directions
Most people are in the habit of looking at the ground when they walk. Pause occasionally to view your surroundings from a new angle.
5 - Look into the water
We get focused on looking across the surface of water, but often forget to look beneath them. Peer below and discover what resides there.
6 - Stand or sit still for a few minutes
Close your eyes for a minute or two so you can relax and be absorbed in the background. The animals in the area will stop hiding and go back to what they were doing before you arrived.
7 - Take time to look at ordinary things
Focusing on simple items sharpens your observation skills...and may lead to new discoveries.
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During our trip we saw many photographers who came from all over the country to the park to capture the local wildlife on camera. As mentioned previously, we were also able to catch a few ourselves, like the cottonmouth you can see on my youtube video.
Here are some of the animals you may encounter during your visit to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve:
Variety of birds including herons, wood peckers & diving birds like the anhinga
12 tips for visiting Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
Visit the amphitheater kiosk for tips on how to best spot wildlife and where to find them
Study the maps for a better understanding of the slough
Visit just before dusk in October - March to watch birds such as Great Egrets and White Ibis fly in to roots in the trees.
Use binoculars to help with wild life spying
Look at floating rafts for reptiles
Visit when the weather is cooler to catch the alligators sun bathing in an attempt to stay warm.
Observe alligator flag movements for a sign of alligators nearby
Gaze into the waters of the slough for a beautiful reflection
Check out the interpretive center to learn more about the slough and its inhabitants
Visit the Rock and Stroll Garden for a beautiful flower garden that attracts beautiful butterflies
Attend a free guided walk
Attend a special nature program
Things to keep in mind when visiting the slough
In order to ensure the conservation of the slough, it is important that everyone who visits the preserved area cooperates with the preservation and maintenance of it.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when visiting the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve:
Respect all slough life
Respect fellow visitors
Do not feed the wildlife
Eat only in designated areas
Leave no trace or trash behind
Running and jogging is not allowed on the boardwalk, and double-wide strollers are not recommended.
There are no dogs allowed at this park.
Keep talking on cell phones to a minimum to preserve quietness
Important Information about the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
Address:7751 Penzance Blvd, Fort Myers Florida 33966
Park is open from dawn to dusk, daily.
Parking fee is $1 per hour per vehicle, maximum $5 for the day
Regardless of the time of the year or time of day your are visiting the slough preserve on Six Mile Cypress in Fort Myers, you are sure to enjoy the fresh air and the wonderful wildlife show nature puts on in the heart of Southwest Florida.
Last but not least, remember the beautiful quote by Tom Brown Jr. "nature loves an audience, so relax, be patient and let things come to you".