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Nature lover’s paradise



Evans Creek Kayaking

A kayak tour is the perfect way to discover the natural beauty of the peaceful waters around Fort Pierce. MOTORIZED KAYAK ADVENTURES PHOTO

Fort Pierce’s abundant natural resources create thriving ecotourism industry

BY WILLI MILLER

Fort Pierce has long been a treasure for lovers of art and Florida history. Now, the natural blue and green gems of land and water have become a magnet for the nature-minded tourist.

Visitors to Fort Pierce have a wide variety of ways to see Real Florida, thanks to the area’s rapidly growing ecotourism industry. Not only can visitors indulge in their love of deep sea fishing, diving or kayaking, but they can also do everything from riding horses on the beach to taking a tour to see dolphins and manatees in the Indian River Lagoon, the nation’s most diverse estuary.

Fort Pierce native Geoff Horowitz, owner of Inshore Sightseeing and Fishing Charters, has been in the marine industry for 30 years, 20 of them working for boat builders and 10 as owner of Fine Line Yacht Refinishing. He added a captain’s certification to his resume and offered offshore fishing charters before deciding to renovate his 22-foot deck boat to accommodate sightseers of all ages. “I like to take out younger kids who’ve never been on the water, never seen a dolphin in the wild,” Horowitz says.

For those who like their nature up close and personal, Motorized Kayak Adventures of the Treasure Coast incorporates ecology lessons while cruising local waterways. The tours cover “some history, some science and lots of conservation,” owner Billy Gibson says. While kayakers learn about what they’re seeing during the tour, their education continues even after the tour ends.

“We suggest ways for everyone to become part of taking better care of the environment,” he says. “This includes many times sending out follow-up emails to our guests wherever they reside with information on how to join a conservation group in their state or country.”

Cami Sellin, owner of Treasure Coast Boat Rentals - Bait & Tackle and Get Hooked Fishing Charters, says the area is “rich with history and eco-tourism brings light to these assets while preserving its natural integrity.”

Educational nature centers, including Heathcote Botanical Gardens, the Manatee Observation Center and the Smithsonian Exhibit at the St. Lucie County Aquarium, offer opportunities for vacationers and locals interested in nature to take a closer look.

“By showcasing local plants and animals found in the the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean, our goal is to increase awareness about the diversity and fragility of our local marine and estuarine ecosystems,” says Smithsonian educational specialist Cristin Krasco.

From airboats to surfboards, just about any outdoor activity or educational experience is available. With the establishment of Fort Pierce Authentic Tours organization, known as FPAT, and the website FortPierceAuthenticTours.com, word about the city’s ecotourism industry is getting out.

FPAT is marketing collaboration between the city, county and businesses related to the eco/agri/nature tourism industry, says Shyanne Helms, marketing specialist in the city manager’s office. Fort Pierce Authentic Tours is an organization sanctioned by the City of Fort Pierce with St. Lucie County holding a permanent position on its board of directors.

St. Lucie County tourism manager Charlotte Bireley says the county is working on hiring a research firm to conduct a visitor study to determine the impact of the marketing.

“In my opinion, ecotourism has always been a draw for visitors to Fort Pierce,” Bireley says. “In recent years, however, the county, the city and industry partners have organized to market Fort Pierce as an eco-tourist destination in a unified manner.

“In the last couple of years, marketing the area’s eco-tourism assets has become a top-priority for the county,’’ she says. “The county’s tourism office is working closely with the county’s Environmental Resources Department to develop a long-term plan and programming to increase our exposure as an eco-tourist destination.”