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Matlacha Island Walking Tour will appeal to Survivor addicts and Beatles fans

Inside Lovegrove botanical gardens for True Tours inaugural Matlacha Island Walking Tour.
Inside Lovegrove botanical gardens for True Tours inaugural Matlacha Island Walking Tour.
Courtesy of True Tours

Locals contend that Matlacha is a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. Taking in all the bright, color-splashed galleries, artist studios and kitschy boutiques, visitors have increasingly taken to calling the island Key West North and the New Key West. But at True Tours, guides take walking tour participants back to The Fill. That's what the island was affectionately called at the time of the Stock Market Crash of 1929, when squatters arrived and put down roots among the tangled red props and tubular bristles of the red and black mangroves that lined the water's edge.

"Catch of Matlacha Island" illustrates how artists' enclave grew from ashes of fishing community.
Bob Phillips, 2013

There's a surprising amount of history out on Matlacha. But to be blunt, it's not like the accounts and anecdotes people hear on True Tours' downtown Fort Myers' historic and public art walking tours. There, the focus is on the fort that gave rise to the town, Civil War battles, and the cow kings, developers and shopkeepers who played a real life game of Monopoly in which they one-upped each other by building bigger, better and more grandiose hotels, banks and stores than their competitors. But in Matlacha, the focus is on the daily struggles and camaraderie of the squatters who made a mile of dredged up oyster shell and sand their home.

If you like the reality show Survivor, you'll be enthralled by the stories of folks like George and Gay Kuhns, Ernie Long, Charlie Clark and the Kinears from St. Louis, who lived in their cars or tents as they pieced together thatch-covered huts, makeshift fishing shacks and stilt houses while fishing for their suppers and dodging raging bulls to get water from the only well for miles around. Many reviewers postulate that Survivor's simplicity explains its mass appeal to the viewing public, and that is precisely what tour takers discover on True Tours' Matlacha Island Historic Walking Tour. But there's more to it than that.

In our instant-everything society, where people can now find and get anything they desire by merely tapping the appropriate ap on their iPhone or Android, don't we all wonder just a little bit what it would be like to be thrown onto an isolated isle and forced to fend for ourselves? And don't we all crave in our heart of hearts being part of a community where everyone pitches in and takes care of one another (lest they're voted off the island)?

If thoughts like these have ever crossed your mind, if only for a fleeting second, then the Matlacha Island Historic Walking Tour has content you'll savor like a steaming cup of coffee or brimming bowl of seafood chowder on a cold, crisp Southwest Florida night. And when you're done, you can do a little kayaking, wet a line from the "fishingest bridge in the world," shop for art and island souvenirs or just enjoy a relaxing repast of fresh fish, shrimp or other local delicacies (and adult beverage) before once again driving back and rejoining your fast-paced, frenetic modern-day life on the mainland.

And the Matlacha Island Historic Walking Tour also delivers surprises and treats for every Beatles fan.

Each tour starts in pop artist Leoma Lovegrove's magical botanical garden, which she's crafted in the tradition of Ringo Starr's deeply peaceful Octopus's Garden from shells, stones and shiny objects like her fluorescent-bottomed blue bottle trees. Inside Lovegrove's gallery are Fab Four portraits. And between now and March 29, tour takers will have the unprecedented opportunity to paint a peace symbol on Lovegrove's blue 9 x 12 foot Painting Peace canvas and write their wish for personal or global peace on a tag that will be delivered to the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, where it will be added to the tens of thousands of other wishes that will be delivered by three Edison College students to Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, Iceland after the close of the Yoko Ono Imagine Peace exhibition currently on view on the college's Lee campus.

For days, times and reservations, please call True Tours at 239-945-0405 or visit

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