A two-and-a-half-hour drive on the backroads, the town of Alva welcomed us with open arms. Offering water frontage on all sides, the W.P Franklin campground is operated by the Army Core of Engineers. Though the boat slip camping slips are closed due to the damages caused by Hurricane Ian in September of 2022, there are 29 camping rv spots, some with tie-offs for small boats…First impression, it was a well-maintained park with active fishing pier, boat ramp, clean bathhouses, and full of happy campers enjoying their covered picnic tables and concrete pads.
Just ten miles east of Ft. Myers, the Caloosahatchee River is part of the Okeechobee Waterway system. The town itself was full of sprawling estates and winding roads with a single gas station nearest the county owned park. Locals seem to love the convenience of the deli inside full of fried foods from pickles to wings and lots in between. Arriving a bit ahead of check-in that afternoon, it was nice to be greeted by a welcoming camp host. Carol told us about the boat tie-off for our spot #3 and encouraged us to off- load our stuff and put the boat in so we could cross the lock before final call at 4:30pm.
We did just that and had a chance to go east up the Caloosahatchee a bit before entering the lock. In part because I was drawn to the giant steamship that was parked on the northside of the lock. It was white, black, and red with gold accents full of stacked cheers and bottles of cheer as if used as a venue; so cool!
(Later the next day we would find its sister ship at the pier in downtown Ft. Myers.)
Once in the lock, we had our life vests on struck up a bit of a chat with the lock tender. She was a nice lady who lives in the area, sadly still displaced from the hurricane. While inside the lock, we soon realized we were accompanied by a large manatee whose lady friend was waiting for him on the other side; what a fun connection to witness!
Late June in southwest Florida makes for a sweaty setup. Thank heavens for our ability to make ice cold slushies and for Seger’s new step and spray toy! Once our outdoor setup was complete and Koegel hotdogs cooked to perfection over the open flames of our small fire; we decided to go for an evening cruise. The fire fizzled and we set out with Seger to see the river in its nighttime glory. A little while later, with a good book in hand, the Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham, we settled in for an early night in hopes of waking early for river roamin’ fun.
With slider sandwiches prepped and Seger’s lunch packed, we set off as early as we could to find an island for our dog to run on before hitting the downtown area of Ft. Myers. It was humbling to see the aftermath of the storm to such an extreme still 9 months after Ian made landfall. Nearly every home, some big and grandiose with others small and in trailer form, were in the process of getting a new roof. Even more startling was the number of boats on land after the storm surge lifted them beside their houses. A veer to the left before going under I-75’s bridge, took us to the Orange River.
A short river that meanders through some of the area’s more modest homes and active mobile home park; it was cozy optimal for the pace we were going. Large mangroves sprang from the water and a handmade midsized lighthouse emerged from a spoil island welcoming boaters to the neighborhood. Though once we got around a few bends we were met with a sign warning boaters about “dangerously low, unfriendly water navigable by locals only.” Needless to say, we did an about face at that moment and headed back towards the big water of the Caloosahatchee. #63 accomplished.
Just beyond the I-75 bridge, a big island appeared with plenty of sand. Dad threw the ball to Seger for a while, unfortunately, it did seem as if there was some red tide in the water so we made sure he didn’t go too deep in the river and drink any of the water. With a little energy burnt off, we finally made it to the downtown area. There, we were captivated by the skyscrapers and mega yachts displaced in front of large hotels. Before reaching the Sanibel Island bridge, we explored a hard-hit spoil island complete with a toppled tractor and lots of bridge debris; it was heartbreaking. Goes to show, we can never underestimate Mother Nature. In that same area, we spotted the sister steamship anchored at the pier. I bet it is fun to experience an evening onboard.
Running a bit low on fuel, we turned back and made it to the Sweetwater Marina for a little gas and the men at the helm kindly doused our dog with fresh water from the hose. It was a nice visit and knowing we had plenty of fuel made it easier to meander east. Once back at the campsite, we moored up and prepped for an inevitable rainstorm. Our neighbor was slow cooking a vegan sausage and peppers dish that he kindly offered to us to try. I must admit, it was pretty good! After a refreshing storm and snack, many of the fellow campers came out and struck up conversations with each other. Our camp host even popped over to chat and brought some cat food with her to give to our cat back home after remembering we said we had one during check in. The sincere kindness was memorable. Thereafter, we got the cast iron skillet ready so we could make some cheesesteak sandwiches; might be my new favorite camping meal. Perhaps the best bit of news that evening was that our son, Charlie, was finally back in Florida after visiting with family in Michigan. Rather than staying another night at the campground, as we had planned, we decided to head back home the next morning and see our boy. So glad we did! What was even cooler, was our camp host was able to accommodate a last-minute camper and credited back our account; what a terrific surprise that was when the email came through the next day.
Overall, going on river roaming adventures without Charlie changes the dynamic, however, with a goal of being on each river by October of 204, it must be done. These two rivers were charming and very residential. Meanwhile, the Caloosahatchee proved a vital waterway with the large-scale power plant and the occasional waterfront restaurant. Residents enjoyed the big river life with lots of jet skis and speedboats. To its far north, several community-based parks and countless orange groves spring to life. Rivers are so impressive! With all that in mind, this park is one we would return to in good time because it was such an easy drive and boater friendly. Happy roamin’ and glampin’!