Caladesi Discovery Center
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Caladesi Discovery Center

The Friends of the Island Parks would like to
introduce the new Caladesi Discovery Center

Caladesi Discovery Center
The Caladesi Discovery Center (CDC) will be an open air, ADA compliant, interpretive facility rising from the old observation tower site at Caladesi Island State Park.  An observation deck at a height of approximately 25 feet above ground level will provide visitors a panoramic view of this undeveloped barrier island.  In addition to offering a magnificent bird’s eye view of the topography and plant communities of one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the CDC will provide hands-on exhibits where park guests will be able to investigate aspects of Caladesi’s history, habitat and wildlife.  At the Caladesi Discovery Center every person will have an opportunity to experience the nature of “Real Florida.”

Rich History
For thousands of years before European conquest and settlement, Native Americans thrived along Florida’s coast. At Caladesi Island an ancient burial mound cloaked in mangroves conveys evidence of their existence. In 1528 Spanish soldiers first made contact with the indigenous people, the Tocobaga of Punta Pinal, which we now call Pinellas. For the next three centuries, Spanish, English, Caribbean and American soldiers, sailors and fishermen utilized Caladesi as an anchorage stopover, as a site for fish camps, and for hunting parties. In 1888 a Swiss immigrant, Henry Scharrer, established a homestead on the island.  His daughter, Myrtle, was born and grew up here and many years later penned “Yesteryear, I Lived in Paradise,” an iconic memoir of life on a Florida barrier island. Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors each year enjoy the state park that was established in 1967.  Be a part of the continuing story of Caladesi Island at the Caladesi Discover Center.
The Nature of Caladesi
Caladesi Island provides a valuable glimpse into the “Real Florida.”  Acres of mangrove forest flourish. Beach, bayou, sand bars and grass flats are subject only to the action of ocean tides and weather.  Sea oats, Saw palmetto, Southern red-cedar, Hercules’ club, and Grey knicker bean are just a few of the interesting native plants that can be observed here in naturally occurring plant communities. Ephemeral wildflowers include Coral bean, Prickly-pear cactus, and Sky-blue lupine.  The island is home to some of the oldest slash pines in Florida and to ancient live oak trees draped in Resurrection Fern, Butterfly Orchids and Spanish Moss.

Barrier islands are constantly changing in a centuries-old pattern of erosion and accretion. They play a critical role in the coastal geology of southwest Florida. Yet precious few remain virtually undisturbed by development. Caladesi is one of the last remaining barrier islands that look anything like they did before European-Americans arrived here and began to alter their landscape.  Yet human activity has indeed played a hand in Caladesi’s evolution. Many scientists believe the construction of causeways from the mainland drastically altered the dynamics of local barrier islands. Visitors to the Caladesi Discovery Center will learn more about why the island habitat is critical to fish, plants, shellfish, reptiles, birds, and humans, as well as how barrier islands evolve over time and provide protection to the mainland in major storms.

Fascinating Wildlife

Situated in the most densely populated county in Florida, Caladesi Island provides a critical sanctuary for species endangered by development and competition from humans.  The threatened Gopher Tortoise thrives here, as do species of snakes, insects, and crustaceans that have been displaced elsewhere.  Owls and Osprey build nests and tend to their young. Year round resident as well as migratory birds use Caladesi’s forests, wrack lines, sandbars and scrub for respite and sustenance.  Caladesi’s beach is critical to shorebirds for resting and nesting and to sea turtles as well. The mangrove and sea grass beds are essential nurseries for shellfish, mollusks and fish. Dolphin and Manatee are some of the large sea creatures that shelter in Caladesi waters.
Architectural Rendering of Caladesi Discovery Center
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