Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gasparilla Island

Port Boca Grande Lighthouse
Another sunny South Florida day found us headed in the direction of Gasparilla Island and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.
Gasparilla is a small barrier island separated from the mainland by the Charlotte Sound.
Popular folklore tells a story of Gulf pirate Jose' Gaspar and a fabulous lost treasure and claims that the island is named for that swashbuckling sailor.
It makes a nice story and one that is much more fun to believe than the one that historians will tell you about Spanish missionaries.

An Ospry nest in the parking lot of Gasparilla Island State Park.
The lighthouse is located in Gasparilla Island State Park at the south end of the island. There was plenty of parking in the lot and payment is by honor system.  Island residents travel by bicycle or golf cart and parking them doesn't take up much space.
The State Park has a picnic area and bath houses as well as miles of beach. The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is a short stroll from the parking area. We spotted another Ospry nest here in the parking lot. I am beginning to think that they are a must have attraction for Florida Lighthouses.
Fred and I had visited the lighthouse once before in the late 90's and were enjoying lunch in the picnic area when a large iguana ran up the fence near our picnic table, perched on the top and started hissing at us.  It was a startling experience and one that we didn't expect to have repeated.
Then this guy showed up.

Black Spinytail Iguanas have become a nuisance population on Gasparilla Island
We later learned that the population of these non-native lizards has expanded at an alarming rate. They have no natural predators and their presence has been traced to a resident that brought them home from Mexico. He released them into the island environment when he realized that their sharp teeth and spiny tails make them poor pets.
After our encounter with the prehistoric beast we headed over the dunes to the beach.
Gasparilla Island beaches are good for shelling and also a great place to search for sharks teeth. We did find a few small ones to bring home to the boys.
The sand is rough with broken shells so bring your water shoes when you visit.
Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is a one story wood house on pilings with a square tower protruding through the roof like a giant chimney. On top of that tower is an octagonal lantern room that is lit with a drum lantern.
The assistant keepers quarters are a separate building, identical to the first except for the tower. The lighthouse is a museum and is open to the public.

A cleat from the old phosphate docks on Gasparilla Island
Museum displays reveal the history of Gasparilla Island starting with the story of Calusa Indians that used the island for hunting and fishing.
Additional exhibits reveal the effect that phosphate mining had on the area. Rock Phosphate was mined in Dunellon and shipped down the Peace River across the Charlotte Sound to Gasparilla Island where it was loaded onto ships heading Northward. Exports increased in the late 1800's when a railroad line was built to connect Gasparilla Island to the mainland. Increased shipping traffic lead to the need for a lighthouse. Port Boca Grande was established in 1890.
The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range Light
There is a second light on Gasparilla Island. The Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range light is an iron skeletal tower similar in design to the on at Sanibel. The Tower at Boca Grande is painted white. It has an interesting history of being recycled. The light began its service in Lewes Delaware marking Cape Henlopen and the entrance of Delaware Bay.  It was deactivated in 1918, dismantled and shipped South. The steel structure found a home on Gasparilla Island where it was reactivated in 1932.
It was sweet to see them both in one day.

Gasparilla State Park and Port Boca Grande Lighthouse
880 Belcher Rd
Boca Grande, Florida
Lighthouse open daily 10-4, Sundays 12-4

Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range Light
Gulf Blvd between Wheeler Rd and Seabreeze Ct.

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