Lido Key’s mangrove tunnels haven’t always been the serene Sarasota icons they are today. In the 1940s they were nothing more than troughs dug out to attract pesky mosquitoes and keep them away from local residents. But the ditches weren’t quite doing their job, so the County decided to take the plot of South Lido Park in a different direction. Workers made three of the larger trenches navigable, and what we have today is hardly reminiscent of the tunnels’ early roots. “What’s really cool is you don’t have to travel far to visit a world-class kayak and canoe route. It’s right in the shadow of downtown,” says George Tatge, manager of beaches and natural areas for Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. The tunnels buzz with biodiversity, Tatgeex plains, in large part because of close proximity to the Gulf, which lends a high salinity to the water. Sponges, shellfish and crustaceans make a home among the clear, shallow paths. It’s also a great locale for bird watching-wading birds rest on exposed mangrove bases just a few feet away from passing paddlers. In Florida’s warmest months, the tunnels are a cool retreat-the shaded trails are generally 10 to 15 degrees cooler than their sunny surroundings, and a Gulf breeze is often in no short supply.
All that’s left of the tunnels’ early days are several large mounds of dirt-the fill from those original ditches. But the County is on that, too. It has already applied for a $1.2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it hopes to use to remove the old mounds, along with the non-native plants perched on top. It should all lead to further biodiversity and growth of the majestic tunnels that lie in the shadow of our city.