On these cold days in Southwest Florida, the park is the perfect place to go – Manatee Park, that is! Located in Fort Myers, Florida on State Road 80, directly across from the Florida Power and Light power plant, Manatee Park is the perfect place to view manatees. The warm water from the Caloosahatchee River flows across from the power plant, through the park, and the colder the weather, the more manatees there are enjoying the warm water.
You can enjoy Manatee Park with your family for only an $1.00 per hour, per vehicle ($5.00 per day) parking fee. You might want to bring quarters to feed the meter; you can also get assistance and change at the gift shop. Between the months of November and March when the weather is cold particularly, you can stand on a covered walk overlooking swarms of manatees, including family groups, and watch them swim, float, play and eat from 8:00 a.m. to sunset daily. If the sun is bright, sunglasses can make the manatees under the water more visible. You will probably need a jacket also, especially if there is a breeze off of the water.
Most people know that manatees are often called sea cows due to their large, amorphous shape, and their habit of placidly munching sea grasses in the river. But there is a lot more to learn about these interesting mammals. There are plaques, signs and literature at the park telling all sorts of interesting facts about manatees, such as the fact that their teeth “march” forward from back to front, allowing the worn ones to fall out as fresh ones continually replace them. Manatees must surface to breathe, which ensures your seeing them if they are close by in the water. If you would like to learn even more, you can call the park and arrange to attend a special program, with one of the on-site naturalists, at the ampitheater; the naturalists are also available to answer random questions.
Manatee Park is not very big, but it offers more than just manatees. There is a beautiful and extensive butterfly garden, as well as picnic tables and a playground for family outings. The pleasant grounds with native plants serve as demonstration landscaping for local gardeners. A short walk leads to a pier overlooking the Orange River; nearby is a boat launch area. Kayak and canoe rentals are available also.
Manatee Park boasts a lovely little gift shop, with keepsakes and toys relating to manatees, naturalists to talk with, and literature to read. Clean restrooms are located near the gift shop. Year round, this lovely little park is a treat for the family; in the winter months Manatee Park is extra special because of all the manatees warming themselves in the river.
Sources: Personal experience