By John McCarthy
I’ve lived in Sarasota my entire adult life, but I spent my first seven years on Estero Island, in a canal-front home on Driftwood Lane between mangrove-lined Estero Bay and the expansive beach that defined the island community. My earliest memories are of collecting shells and sea life in the sea-grass beds that flourished in the shallow Gulf waters. We found pipefish, sea robins and seahorses. We collected treasures on the beach after tropical storms and the traveled canals and bay by canoe. Our neighborhood was filled with discovery; we were completely surrounded by nature.
Our new family home near Sarasota High School was miles from the beach; there was no canal and no canoe. Live oaks and pine trees replaced the familiar coconut palms and bananas. While we occasionally visited Lido, Caspersen or Turtle Beach, life without the “walking-distance beach” was not the same. We had bonded with the beach life and were now severed from that essential part of our lives.
Then a field trip to South Lido with Solomon Malinsky’s Pine View biology class let me put down new salty roots. Our seine net pulled in pipefish, starfish and seahorses. We waded in the shallow waters and explored the shoreline of the ever-dynamic beach. Surrounded by the Gulf, the pass, the bay and lagoon, I felt reconnected with a part of my soul.
South Lido became a frequent destination. My friends and I explored deeper within the mangroves and waded waist-deep through the now-famous kayak tunnels. We found hummingbirds and rattlesnakes and wonderfully contorted red-cedar driftwood. I made a crude survey of the canal network and the small hammocks of cedar and cabbage palms. An aerial photo proved that my survey was not far off, and an 1883 chart showed the hammocks as separate islands.
My explorations of South Lido I led me to a career embracing heritage, nature and recreation. This amazingly diverse beach, protected by visionary Ted Sperling, inspired my work and my life.
John McCarthy, former longtime general manager of parks and recreation for Sarasota County, is executive director of SCOPE.