Pining for a getaway on Pine Island

Muffy Clark Gill "Leoma's Garden"
Back in October we attended a charity auction at The Alliance for the Arts in Ft Myers, Florida. One of our bids successfully purchased a two night getaway at the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland, Florida. This last week we thought it would be a fun way to celebrate my recent birthday so I made a reservation and off we went.
Pineland is about a 90 minute drive from Naples and is located on Pine Island. To get there you drive through the sprawling city of Cape Coral and cross a series of canals and creeks until you reach the funky fishing village of Matlacha (the locals pronounce it Mat-la-shay). I call it funky because local artist Leoma Lovegrove has encouraged the local businesses to paint their low slung shacks and shops in bright tropical colors much like Leoma’s artwork. Many years ago when the Lovegrove family lived in Naples, her mother, artist Rosemary Lovegrove made me a white cowboy hat bedecked in pink feathers with an optional arrow so that it looked like the arrow was going through my head—I cherished that hat for many years. Years later Leoma moved to Matlacha and opened up her own gallery. Since then Beall’s, a Florida retail chain commissioned her to do a line of clothing and accessories and the rest is history.  We located her gallery and browsed through a wonderland of colorful artworks and objects d’art. Her backyard garden is also lavishly decorated and should be visited.
We then went next door and checked out the Wild Child Gallery, another shop featuring the work of other local artists. There were some very unusual papier-mâché fish and sculptures by artist Lenea Howe that I hadn’t seen before.

Heading west past gaudy fishing shack/ motels we reached the center of Pine Island and headed north. Stringfellow road took us past several miles of mango groves, and Pine Island is well known for their annual MangoMania Festival. We reached the Four Winds Marina on Jug Creek and enjoyed lunch using a gift certificate that had been included in our auction package  at The Lazy Flamingo. The place was packed with people. They are known for their seafood and they did not disappoint! Oysters on the half shell were quickly downed followed by conch fritters and a shared fish platter of mesquite grilled triple tail– some of the best we have ever tasted! The Key Lime Pie was OK but nothing special.
We headed south again and after taking  Bokeelia Road (bow-key-lee-ya) we entered the settlement known as Pineland. This is a very old community originally called Tampa by the Calusa Indians—the first Spaniards who visited the old Calusa village got confused when making  their maps of the area and inadvertently moved the town north to where the city of Tampa sits today.  The Calusa people left behind the remains of their village—huge shell and sand mounds which are preserved today as the University of Florida’s Randell Research Center. We arrived at the Pineland Marina and stopped to check ourselves in for our Cabbage Key trip aboard the Tropic Star the following morning before going down the street to our final destination, the Tarpon Lodge.

Tarpon Lodge was founded in 1926  as a private fishing lodge and named the Gra-Mar villa by its original owners, Graham and Mary Wilson of Philadelphia. The property once consisted of over 32 acres, but after going through several owners and uses including a retreat for the American Bible College and The Cloisters, a drug rehabilitation center. Present owners the Rob Wells family, bought the property in 2000 and after extensively refurbishing the lodge, cabins, and former dormitory building renamed it the Tarpon Lodge. The Lodge has 22 guest rooms including 8 rooms in the original lodge building. The family also owns the Inn at Cabbage Key. Hurricane Charley caused severe damage (about $850,000), but with volunteer help was restored and back in business several months later. We loved the old fireplace in the room that housed the bar:

Our room-was in the former dormitory building called The Island House. The small but pleasant room featured a balcony with a beautiful view of the Pine Island Sound.

Every boat that visited the lodge and the marina next door had to pass by the lodge due to shallow water and a channel that had already damaged the sea grass beds that had been growing there. There has been an effort to restore the sea grass beds in that area as they help produce food for the rest of the inhabitants of the area.

After we rested, I took a walk before watching the sunset

We had drinks at the bar and a wonderful dinner in the 4 star restaurant before retiring.


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