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Gulf & Main Magazine

Made in the Shade: Check Out These Parks in Lee County

Jun 06, 2023 08:00AM ● By Ann Marie O’Phelan

The playground at Rutenberg Park. Image courtesy of Lee County Parks & Recreation.

Although the hot days of summer are heading our way, you can still enjoy parks across southwest Florida, as many provide a lot of shade. According to the Department of Energy, shade from trees can reduce the surrounding air temperatures by as much as 6 degrees.  

Parks offer guests a chance to practice sports, take walks, connect with the community, participate in events, and get close to nature. Lee County Parks & Recreation oversees numerous recreation centers, community centers, community parks, and more, many of which provide visitors a chance to cool off in under-tree canopies and shade structures so they can enjoy the great outdoors even more.

Rutenberg Park

Fort Myers’ Rutenberg Park​ is a 40-acre property that was originally donated by Rutenberg Homes and opened to the public in 1977. 

“The Park offers people of all ages many ways to play and includes a playground, tennis courts, handball courts, football field, and youth baseball fields,” says Billy MacPhee, Rutenberg Park Supervisor. 

The Park is adding eight pickleball courts, in the planning stages, to accommodate this growing sport. Pavilions and trees provide cooling shade so guests can rest, and the young ones can enjoy the shady playground area.

Lakes Park

The playground at Rutenberg Park in Fort Myers. Image courtesy of Lee County Parks & Recreation

Another Fort Myers choice is Lakes Park. The park began as a man-made area where the rock was quarried during the 1960s and opened for recreational use in 1984. The park’s water comes from groundwater influx, surface water run-off, and rainfall. The depth varies from a few inches to over 20 feet. The fresh-water lake covers 158 acres of the 279-acre facility and is popular with bird watchers, canoers, and kayakers (rentals available).

Thanks to the vegetation, there’s plenty of shade in the garden areas. 

“In 1991, the ‘Fragrance Garden’ was introduced and has grown from a small area of fragrant herbs, flowers, and plants to a more botanical status with a wide variety of plants, trees, shrubs, and ground cover. A ‘Memory Lane’ was also started thanks to monetary donations which dedicate trees, shrubs, plants, or benches to the memory of loved ones designated by plaques,” says Joe Debacker, Lakes Park Supervisor.  

In 1992, the re-alignment of Gladiolus Drive brought changes to facility’s entrance and initiated the process of exotic vegetation removal and the replanting of native species, which continues today. Annually, volunteers celebrate Earth Day by planting various shade trees throughout the Park for patrons to enjoy. The ‘Miniature Railroad’ opened in 1995. 

“This is a scale-model railroad that offers a 15-minute ride through the northern areas of the Park. The ride runs beside the lake, through a tunnel, and past several displays, such as scale villages, towns, and natural areas, says Debacker. 

There’s also an accompanying Railroad Museum. Three outdoor body fitness stations offer dozens of exercise options, while hikers can enjoy paved and unpaved trails. Park tours on six-passenger golf carts are available. Call 239-533-7578 to reserve. 

The non-profit Lakes Park Enrichment Foundation, a 501(c)(3), is dedicated to helping restore Lakes Regional Park to a native Florida wildlife environment by assisting Lee County Parks & Recreation with the implementation of its Master Plan that consists of themed areas of native vegetation, additional meandering boardwalks, paths and nature trails through the preserve, and new park amenities. Various community events are offered throughout the year. Find out more at or call 239-533-7275.

Ann Marie O’Phelan is a SW Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.