For the park staff and the Friends of Lovers Key (FOLKS) support organization, this new Welcome & Discovery Center was always something they longed for, envisioning a space that would not only draw in park visitors, but also educate guests about its history and the many things that make the park unique.
Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Park is a 1,442-acre area made up of four barrier islands between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach, nestled amidst the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay.
The park has a long interesting history, filled with stories of romance, Indians, pirates, treasure, and trade, however most aren’t aware of this rich history, nor all the things the park has to offer.
The park was once only accessible by boat, until Lee County decided to build a causeway connecting the islands. Johnson Engineering’s founder, Carl E. Johnson, was hired by Lee County in the early 1960s to survey the land and determine property boundaries. Back then, most of the landowners didn’t actually know the true borders of their property. He was able to persuade landowners to give portions of their land to the County and State, in return for providing them with modern deeds to clarify exactly what they owned. They used this land to build the causeway and established Carl E. Johnson County Park. The rest of the island was slated for development, and even possibly for a golf course. Years later the land owner made the decision to donate it to the state in the hopes of preserving it for future generations. In 1983, the state ended up buying Carl E. Johnson County Park, forming what we know today as Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Park.
Today the park is a world-famous destination, best known for its tranquil secluded white sand beaches and signature beach pavilion. It’s among the top four most visited state parks in the State of Florida and attracts nearly one million visitors per year. As visitors take a short tram ride down to the beach, they observe the park’s various ecosystems, yet few truly comprehend its vast uniqueness. They can explore and enjoy a multitude of habitats from the Gulf beach and dunes up through the maritime hammocks and back down to the mangrove forests along the estuary.
This diverse park has two miles of beach and over five miles of trails. In one day, you may have the opportunity to spot dolphins, manatees, alligators, sharks, turtles, as well as egrets, herons, and osprey. Visitors can go to the beach, swim, kayak, paddle board, fish, bird watch, hike, and now go geocaching.
For more than 10 years, the park staff and volunteers hoped for a central visitor’s center that would allow park guests a place to gather and learn about all the park has to offer and learn about its long rich history.
The time has finally arrived as the new nearly 4,000 sq. ft. Welcome & Discovery Center is slated to open in 2020. It will provide a place to share this invaluable information. The tales from the past can finally be told in a historical display in the center. The main exhibit hall will feature environmental exhibits signifying the four ecosystems that exist at Lovers Key State Park (LKSP) which include: Coastal Strand, Estuary, Sand Dunes, and Maritime Hammock. Each exhibit will educate visitors how each ecosystem works, why they are important, what flora and fauna they can find there, and how to get there, so they can explore this fascinating world themselves.
This center will be such a benefit to the park, bringing together history and education for future generations for the continued preservation of Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Park. As the civil engineer for this project, Johnson Engineering is proud to be part of both the history and now the future of the park.
To learn more about the park visit: www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lovers-key-state-park or if you’d like to be a part of history and support the new Welcome & Discovery Center visit: www.friendsofloverskey.org/center.html. For more information, contact Juli Kern at (239) 334-0046 or [email protected].
(A special thanks to Lovers Key State Park staff and Friends of Lovers Key (FOLKS). Building renderings courtesy of Sweet Sparkman Architects. Exhibit artwork by Split Rock Studios.)