otter mound preserve
Marco Island is well known for its affluent lifestyle and luxurious homes. But the little island is also rich with history and wildlife.
Otter Mound Preserve recently opened for the public to get a glimpse into Southwest Florida history. Named after the original owner of the 1.78 acre property, Ernest Otter, the preserve is important because it is one of the only shell mounds in Collier County that remain.
Numerous artifacts from the Calusa Indians have been found dating back as far as 3,000 years ago. The preserve is also a tropical hardwood hammock—which is a dense, vine-like habitat that is only found now on the uninhabited barrier islands.
Collier County purchased the site for a little over $1.3 million in 2004 as part of the Conservation Collier program.
The shell mound once spanned 80 acres on Marco Island, however in 1962, a majority was cleared to develop the land.
Since the purchase, community volunteers have been working with the county to clear the preserve site to remove trash, non-native trees and plants, and brush. They then planted between 25-30 varieties of local species to replenish the removals.
Back in the 1940’s, Ernest Otter constructed a winding wall made out of lightning whelk shells spanning 300 feet around the property. The shells were there as part of the mound site from the Calusa’s.
An outhouse from the era is the only structure left on the premises. Other artifacts found by volunteers were a boot heel from the turn of the 1900’s and Calusa Indian tools that date around 750 A.D.
Otter Mound Preserve now allows the public to enjoy the historical site that was once only admired by environmentalists and archaeologists. The natural preserve has a walking trail with signs to point out the foliage and history of the mound. The shell wall is an amazing feat of construction. Looking at it from a glance, you might not realize you are looking at shells.
The county has been working with several organizations including the City of Marco Island and the Florida Humanities Council on the clearing of the vegetation non-native to this area.
There are a few benches to sit and enjoy the natural beauty along the pathway of the preserve. However, there are no restroom facilities available. Strollers and wheelchairs may be a challenge to manage due to the mulch-lined trail.
There is no charge to enjoy this glimpse into Florida’s history. It is a trip worth making because it is one of the few places left like it here in Southern Florida.
Directions from Naples: South on Collier Blvd. to Marco Island. Turn left on N. Barfield. Take N. Barfield to Inlet Dr. Turn left, then another left on Addison Dr.