Even environmental carelessness can turn out all right. In 1957, two New York brothers bought 103 square miles of native Florida scrubland.
They then proceeded to bulldoze almost everything off the land. They sheared off the brush. They removed the palmettos. They cut down the pines, mangroves and palms.
Their next step was to dig over 400 miles of canals. The excavated rock and sand was piled in between the canals in order to raise lots high enough above the water to sell.
They called it Cape Coral. The first building in the new community was a sales office. A high pressure sales program marketed to Americans, Germans, Italians and other Europeans. It was affordable waterfront land. They even had their own airstrip both to bring in customers and to show potential customers their lots. [That is your lot right down there.]
A 1959 water-view lot (on a canal) cost $990. A riverfront lot cost $3330. At full build-out, the community was expected to have a population of 450,000.
The brothers promised new residents every amenity — until those amenities became too expensive for the brothers to maintain. They sold out in 1970. The company that bought it went bankrupt in 1975. The brothers were subsequently convicted for selling underwater lots in another community.
When we first saw the city in 1992, we were astounded at the barrenness. There were miles and miles of empty treeless lots. There were fewer than 75,000 people, and most were concentrated in one area at the far south near a bridge to more balanced communities.
But every cloud has a silver lining. A small little owl, endangered in some jurisdictions, threatened in others and considered a “species of concern” in Florida, liked it. These little guys, burrowing owls, are usually less than ten inches tall [25.5 cm] and weigh less than 10 ounces [284 grams].
As their name implies, they like to live in burrows in the ground. When you are short and live in a hole in the ground, you can’t see much to hunt when you come out of your hole. More importantly, if there are a lot of trees and brush around, you can’t see the guys out there hunting you.
Once distributed widely throughout the United States, burrowing owls have been on the decline as their homes were farmed or built over. Then they discovered Cape Coral. To a burrowing owl, this new barren landscape was paradise.
Their wild west relatives live in abandoned burrows of other animals. Cape Coral owls, true to the tradition of Florida developers, dig their own burrows.
Humans are closing in.
They start mating around May and their chicks are gone by October. During that time, Cape Coral protects their nests from human home builders.
An estimated 1000 nesting pairs live in Cape Coral, more than any other place in Florida. They attract photographers from all over the world. The 15th annual Burrowing Owl Festival will be held 25 February 2017.
Ironically, recent decades have shown it is not a bad place for humans either. There is now a book: Lies That Came True: The Amazing Creation of Cape Coral, Florida. The city’s population more than doubled in the last twenty years. Businesses were created. Residents planted shrubs and trees. The city landscaped medians. Those $3300 riverfront lots now cost over a million dollars.
Forbes recently ranked Cape Coral/Fort Myers [its neighbor across the river] as the fastest growing city in the United States.
But as the city builds out, the environment is changing again. Once again it is becoming crowded for these little guys. Fortunately, this time someone cares.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Take a look at the “alphabetical index” at the top of the page. I have added hyperlinks. Now you can find locations and just click on them to go to the relevant post.