Are you a fan of Lovers Key State Park, the last unspoiled barrier island in Southwest Florida that’s also the second most-visited state park? If so, there’s even more to love with the opening of its $4.7 million Welcome & Discovery Center.
Elevated by mangrove-like pilings, the two-story building is divided by a spacious breezeway for educational, inspirational exhibits. The nonprofit Friends of Lovers Key (FOLKS) raised $1 million for the exhibits and interiors, which are 60 percent complete, says FOLKS President Jim Remis. His 500-member-strong organization is working to raise $250,000 more to finalize the exhibits highlighting coastal ecosystem habitats and install a manatee sculpture.
The open-air, first-floor level will be outdoor classrooms. Environmental education is the key focus at the 1,616-acre park, which was slated for development before the state acquired Black Island and Long, Inner, and Lovers keys in southern Lee County in 1983. “In some respects, it’s a piece of property that shouldn’t be in the condition it is now,” Remis notes. Today, FOLKS partners with Florida Gulf Coast University honors students who assist with developing research and educational programs. “We were a quiet, little organization that had parties and sold T-shirts, but we’re moving into a whole different area,” Remis says. “Our mission is to develop educational programs that inspire young people to be future stewards of the environment.”