History of The Gulf Coast Skimmers
Thirty years ago John Pulling (as in Airport-Pulling Rd.) and the McCormick family began digging behind Ted's Sheds in East Naples. The fill was used to create many of the county's original two lane roads. After the land's lime rock resources were exhausted, the land and lake were abandoned. For the next 25 years the 120 acres of property turned into a nucleus of crime for Collier County. Over 65 homeless men moved onto the property, four wheel drive vehicles tore up the natural terrain, major drug deals were going down nightly, and if the dump didn't take it, people dumped it on the property. In fact, three cars have been pulled from the lake to date.
Back in 1991 John Gursoy of the Gulf Coast Skimmers Water Ski Show had a vision to teach financially at risk children how to water ski in order to help keep them off the streets. He had been water skiing on the lake since 1986. The property owners, Signature Communities, were receiving several code violations due to the constant trespassing and misconduct on the property. So in exchange for water ski rights, Gursoy offered to patrol the area and clean it up. Signature Communities agreed. Gursoy was faced with a massive effort. First bull-dozers were brought in to completely block off the property from vehicular traffic. Next, Gursoy met with Father John of St. Matthews House as how to peacefully remove the homeless from the property. Then, all the ground cover was removed from the property so it would not be attractive to the homeless. Finally, a strong commitment was given by the East Naples Sheriff's sub-station to patrol the property. Now it has been completely cleaned up and resembles a beautiful park. Florida wildlife is now abundant amongst the peaceful setting and what was once a 120 acre nucleus of crime and violence is now beautiful and pure.
In Gursoy's mind the foundation had been laid to start his youth outreach program. It was time for the "Show" to begin and he began teaching the children in the immediate neighborhood how to water ski. He also put them to work maintaining the property and equipment. A days play and work would conclude with a lesson about life. His emphasis is of hard work, respect, accountability, credibility and being ladies and gentlemen. On June 26, 1993 the Gulf Coast Skimmers invited the public to visit the beautiful property and take in the first show. Ever since then, the kids have entertained over 50,000 people. Attendance has grown each show.
In the summer of 1994 the property owner was under financial pressure to begin development of the property into over 300 condominium units. In response, the Gulf Coast Skimmers put out a plea to save Lake Avalon as a park for all to enjoy and so their outreach program could continue. Working closely with Collier County Parks and Recreation, a plan was developed to purchase Lake Avalon and surrounding 60 acres and make it into the first Regional Park for Collier County. With the aide of local newspapers, television and radio stations, the citizens of Collier County were soon behind the proposed project. The biggest hurdle was to raise the 2.1 million dollars for the purchase.
In May 1995, after months of long hours, and a generous donation from Herb and Peg Sugden of $500,000, a proposal was brought before Collier County Commission to spend 1.6 million dollars of future regional park impact fees to purchase the lake. The vote was 5-0 in favor of the project and the Gulf Coast Skimmers were given a long term lease for water rights and a two acre parcel of land to build a stadium, boat house and club house. The projected opening of the park is still one year away, but the Gulf coast Skimmers still perform weekly shows while the park is under construction.