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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Environmentally Speaking: Happehatchee Center Under New Ownership

Happehatchee Center Under New Ownership

The Happehatchee Center Board of Directors reached an agreement in January with the Village of Estero, gifting, at no cost or monetary exchange, its nearly five acres to the Village, which will preserve and protect the unique environmental asset for future generations.  “This is what my dear friend, Ellen Peterson, the founder of Happehatchee Center, Inc. and a longtime resident on the property, wanted. I’m sure she’s smiling, knowing that the center will always be able to fulfill its mission of operating an environmental and educational center,” says Genelle Grant, president of Happehatchee Center.

The Village of Estero will provide stewardship to preserve in perpetuity the property and its unique vegetation, including its Estero River banks (north and south), mature trees, bamboo, native vegetation, and natural water spring, consistent with best practices for land preservation. After April 1, the YMCA will be moving into the historic house on the property. Together with the Village of Estero, they will develop the programming, which will be offered to the community, including environmental education.

“As we move into the future, everyone in the village as well as all the friends of Happehatchee and the Estero River will be excited to witness the creation of a nature preserve, bicycle paths and the 200 feet of protected riverbank on both sides of the river. It could only have happened with this gifting of the property to the village which purchased of the 62 acres around the center,” advises Grant, who notes that the Happehatchee Board of Directors is very grateful to the thousands that have volunteered and contributed to the sustenance, maintenance, and celebrations of the land and the spirit of the center.  


In 2006 Peterson and Grant, two best friends and active environmentalists, cofounded and incorporated the center, now an official Lee County Historic Preservation site. Grant, a North Fort Myers resident, continued as board president after Peterson’s death in 2011. The center began taking shape in 2005 when Peterson conceived of the five acres for preservation and use by environmentally and spiritually friendly groups. Today, more than 2,000 people have come to share Peterson’s vision. The center has played host to Florida Gulf Coast University students and volunteers, yoga classes, sacred circles, Reiki healers, kirtan, drumming circles and a citizen’s committee that worked to acquire the forested acreage surrounding the center.

The COVID-19 time-line uncertainties and Estero’s own construction schedule and derelict building demolition (structures to the west of Happehatchee) may require that the center’s facilities remain closed for more time. It is possible that public events and classes could begin again in June.