Published: Dec 23, 2010 10:41 PM EST
Updated: Dec 23, 2010 7:53 PM EST

Lee County may embark on a path to improve  Lakes Regional Park in South Fort  Myers.   It's one of the most popular recreation spots in the area, with as many as 600-thousand visitors a year.  But it's plagued by water quality problems and many non-native trees.

"I love this park, and anything they can do to make the water better and to make it more Florida-like, I think it's great," said Steve Brown, a frequent visitor at Lakes.

The water problem stems from several causes:    run-off of nutrients from nearby lawns and streets, slow flow of water, and occasional back-flow of salt water from Hendry Creek and Estero Bay.     That  backflow can lead to fish kills.   The county banned swimming in the lakes a couple of years ago, because the water is so polluted, much of the time.

Bob Repenning is the Land Stewardship director for Lee County.   "We want to tear out some weirs, small dams, that block the water flow, and we want to put in more bubblers to circulate water.  We're also looking at planting some vegetation right on the shoreline, so those plants can filter and cleanse the pollutants in the water," said Repenning.   "Nobody wants to see green or brown water there."

Park supervisor Lee Coffee says there's another problem -- invasive, exotic trees:  mostly Australian pines and Melaleuca.     Both cover many of the islands in the lakes.  

The problem is, those trees also provide a vital nesting ground for many wading birds.  Some estimates put the numbers of bird pairs nesting at Lakes, as high as 1000.    Coffee says they will have to proceed very slowly and carefully in removing the exotics from the park.   "We need the birds, they are popular with visitors, but we also have to get the invasives out of the park.   We don't want any more exotics getting a foothold at Lakes,"   Coffee told WINK News.

The county will present its ideas and take input from the public on Jan. 5 at Rutenberg Park in South Ft. Myers.     Commissioners have the final say on any improvements at the park.   Planners hope to get that approval, and then apply for state and federal grants to pay for much of the work.