Almost every summer afternoon Eric Miller, 32, drives his old Chevy pickup down to one of the canals along Alligator Alley. By the time he arrives, a small crowd is already there. Kids are running around or jumping off the banks into the water. Some parents are swimming while others sit around on coolers in the shade.
When he gets there, Miller catches up with his friends until it gets too hot. Then he peels off his shirt revealing a lean, muscular build and a deep natural tan. He takes off his dark glasses and black cowboy hat and walks over to the topless palm tree next to the swimming hole. As he climbs to the top, large afternoon clouds pass overhead and cars whizz by just 200 feet south on I-75.
Up top he finds his balance, slowly unbending his knees. In one clean action, he leans forward, jumps, and starts to rotate into a front flip, eventually hitting the water in the swimming hole 25 or 30 feet below.
It's an afternoon routine Miller has done for as long as he can remember.
"To relax some people like a good country drive, some people like a walk in the park. I like swimming out here," he said. Born and raised in the Naples area, Miller said the swimming hole has always been more appealing than the beach.
"I've been to every beach in South Florida and I would rather come here," he said. "It's in my backyard, it's not crowded and you can't do a front flip out of a palm tree on the beach."
Nowadays, the swimming hole is the only one that Miller and others regularly get it. But back in the day, Miller said there were canals and lakes all over Naples where people used to hang out.
"Now those spots are mostly golf courses and condos," he said.
The Hutton family, Chris, Danielle and their four kids, are down at the swimming hole with Miller almost every day.
"It's not crowded and it's a family environment," Danielle Hutton said. "Plus it's free. My family works hard but we live week to week on paychecks. We can't afford to go to the waterparks"
Like Miller, Chris Hutton grew up at the swimming hole, which he and others have dubbed "The Crystal" because of its unusually clear water.
Drivers who pass by on I-75 and see them swimming regularly stop to warn the Huttons and others about alligators. Chris Hutton said he wouldn't let his kids swim if it wasn't safe. He has seen a couple alligators pass by, but it's been at least a couple years since one has ventured into where people swim.
"There are too many of us out splashing around and having a good time out here," Danielle Hutton said. "They know not to bother us."
Miller and the Huttons admit that they constantly worry the The Crystal might eventually disappear like the other swimming spots. With the continued rate of development around Naples, they wonder how long they'll be able to enjoy it.
"They're overdeveloping everything out here, It's gonna be Miami soon enough," Danielle Hutton said.
For now, though, Miller, the Huttons and the others are doing their best to enjoy what they still have. Last week Miller brought a mower down to cut the grass. He and the Huttons regularly pick up any trash along the banks or in the canal.
"It would suck it this place disappeared," Danielle Hutton said as she floated around in an inner-tube last Friday afternoon. "But at least we got it, and I sure hope we can keep it."
Aug 27, 2007
Posted by Jakob Schiller at 12:56 PM