CHARLOTTE HARBOR STATE PARK
Ringing Charlotte Harbor like a necklace of mangroves, the park provides vast areas of unspoiled scenery and vital habitat for many varieties of wildlife. The upland areas of the park are accessible at pedestrian walk-through's available in each section of the park. The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) www.checflorida.org is located within the park at 10941 Burnt Store Road in Punta Gorda. CHEC is a non-profit group that has a visitor's center, offers environmental education programs, interpretive guided hikes, and several miles of marked trails. The Old Datsun Trail is located at 12001 Burnt Store Road in Punta Gorda. This trail is approximately 1.75 miles long and traverses oak/palm hammocks, pine flatwoods and wetland sloughs. The Little Pine Island High Marsh Trail is located on the north side of Pine Island Road between Matlacha and Pine Island. This trail is approximately 2 miles long and traverses salt marsh, freshwater marsh and mangrove forests. The Catfish Creek Trailhead is located on the east side of County Road 771 approximately 1 ? miles north of Placida. A picnic pavilion is available for visitors to use at this site. Pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes, and salt marshes are accessible from this trailhead. Visitors are welcome to explore other areas of the park, unless posted as closed, but should be aware that these areas are remote and primitive wilderness. Visitors should take a compass, a map, and sufficient water for their trip. Almost all areas of the park are wetlands and are subject to periodic flooding. Heat, muddy trails, and mosquitoes are common elements of natural Florida. Visitors should be prepared to encounter all of them.
The park also manages more than 80 miles of Charlotte Harbor shoreline. Most of it is shallow water fringed by mangroves. These areas provide amazing opportunities to view wading birds, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife. It is best accessed by kayak or canoe and there are many opportunities to access the Preserve from Placida, El Jobean, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Cape Coral, Matlacha, Pineland, Bokeelia and St. James City. Portions of two paddle trail systems wind through the park. Their websites have maps available for download. The Great Calusa Blueway, website - www.greatcalusablueway.com, is in Lee County. The Charlotte County Blueway, www.charlottecountyfl.com/parks/blueway.asp, is in Charlotte County. On land or on the water, there is something for everyone in the "Real Florida".
The park encompasses approximately 42,518 acres. Approximately 7,000 acres are uplands and 35,518 acres are wetlands and open waters. The park lands were initially acquired through the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL) in the 1970's and continued with the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program. Additional lands were acquired under the Save Our Rivers program and more recently under the Florida Forever program. The park was originally named the Charlotte Harbor State Reserve was later renamed Charlotte Harbor State Buffer Preserve and then in 2004, the DEP reorganized several programs and the management of the preserve was transferred to the Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP) and it is now called the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park. In the late 1970's the state began acquiring lands around the Harbor to "buffer" the aquatic resources. By preserving upland habitats surrounding the aquatic preserves in Charlotte Harbor, Gasparilla Sound, Cape Haze, Lemon Bay, Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound, the park helps protect water quality, sea grasses and other habitats that are important to fish and wildlife and provides residents and visitors to the area with opportunities for boating, fishing, and other recreational pursuits. The preservation and protection of Charlotte Harbor is the goal of a continuing partnership with the aquatic preserves program. This program is part of the DEP Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas which shares facilities with the park in Punta Gorda.
There are many opportunities for boating and paddling in the waters of the Aquatic Preserves (Lemon Bay, Gasparilla Sound / Charlotte Harbor, Cape Haze, Pine Island Sound, and Matlacha Pass) which are adjacent to and protected by the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
Canoeing or kayaking in the quiet backwaters of the Aquatic Preserves provides increased opportunities for bird-watching