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BEACH YOURSELF HERE

Just minutes from Marco Island's pricey hotels and gift shops on S Collier Boulevard is a quiet residential neighborhood with a tall pine tree. It bears a huge nest now inhabited by a pair of magnificent eagles and their offspring. Marco Island evokes images of a top vacation resort, but many visitors might not be aware of the island's wildlife, which includes many species of birds, as well as dolphins and manatees.

"We have a lot of environmental concerns," said Rosemarie D'Haem, executive vice president of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce. "We are the gateway to the Everglades. We have a lot of nature here."

Marco Island spans an area roughly four-by-six miles, and originally was developed by Deltona, one of the early development companies in Florida. Finger canals were dug, creating waterfront land over 70 percent of the island. Most hotels and condominiums are on the beach that stretches four miles along one side of the island.

Aside from the beaches, a main attraction for first-time visitors is one of the narrated trolley tours that offer a look over the entire island. Another favorite is a trip on the Rosie O'Shea authentic Mississippi River paddle wheel boat.

Residential neighborhoods cover most of Marco Island, and about 13,000 residents call it home for at least nine months of the year. "The population swells in the winter to somewhere around 30,000," D'Haem said. "We have calculated about a million visitors over the course of a year."

There are no shopping malls, only small, individual shops operated by private owners, many in strip shopping centers. The only fast-food chains on the island are McDonald's and Subway.

Fishing, sailing, shelling, water sports, tennis or golf all are available on Marco Island. Many of the hotels and restaurants offer live entertainment in the evening.

Dining is not neglected on Marco Island; visitors have a large variety of restaurants and types of food to choose from, including seafood, of course, Italian, German and more. The hotels include the Hilton, Marriot and Radisson resorts.

Marco Island is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Nearby Naples has an airport and offers flights on four commuter airlines, and the Southwest Florida Regional Airport is less than an hour away.

The Calusa Indians were the only inhabitants of the island when the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s and named Marco Island for St. Mark. A number of markers are placed around the island describing various historical sites.

AT A GLANCE

Marco Island is on the Gulf of Mexico, 16 miles south of Naples, and nearly 200 miles south of Tampa. Call the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce at (813) 394-7549.

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