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Full-frame fame

Mound House gets a spot in nation-wide documentary project

January 30, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

German photojournalist Dirk Rohrbach fell in love with America at an early age.

Born in Hanau, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm and positioned near an American military base, Rohrbach said he was always surrounded by American culture.

His favorite TV show was an American series called "Sierra," a one-season crime drama that highlighted National Park Service rangers.

Article Photos

German photojournalist Dirk Rohrbach began his journey up the Great Calusa Blueway Thursday, Jan. 25. He stopped at Mound Key and the Mound House on his first day.

It spawned a dream for Rohrbach to become a park ranger. When he was older he learned he had to be an American citizen - so he's been exploring America's wide open spaces with a camera instead.

Rohrbach is working on a five-year documentary project called "50 States: A Journey into America," in which he is exploring and documenting some of the U.S.'s more hidden gems.

It's this project that brought him to Lee County, the Great Calusa Blueway, and the Mound House.

"What's exciting is to share all this history and expose that to a larger audience," said Alison Geisen, Mound House Director. "With all the hard work from volunteers and the community over the last 25 years, I'm very pleased the Mound House is finally being shared."

Rohrbach paddled up to the beach's historic site on Jan. 25, the first day of his week-long, 100-mile paddle exploring the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail. He's drawn to the expanses of natural beauty the U.S.contains.

"It's about the space, an dhow healthy that is for the soul" he said. "That attracts me to this country."

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Lee County's tourism bureau, got wind of Rohrbach's documentary from its German contractors. Megan Contreras, spokeswoman for the bureau, said their German counterparts immediately wanted Rohrback to see the paddling trail.

"It's the first time a journalist's really done this," she said. "He's really out to see our hidden treasures."

Rohrback got a personal tour of the Mound House from Giesen, and learned how to use the Calusa atlatl arrow-throwing tool from Program Coordinator Dexter Norris. Throughout his visit, Rohrback recorded his tour guides and asked them questions about the site, their job and why they wanted to be there.

"With this trip, he's really in seach of people who make America special," Contreras said.

Mike Hammond, the Blueway coordinator, got to guide Rohrback through his first leg of the paddling journey, taking him from Koreshan State Historical Site to Mound Key and then Mound House, where Norris took over the kayak tour.

"When they told me he chose us out of any place in Florida, I was really excited," Hammond said. "I think the word is really getting out. It's being discovered."

Within hours of beginning their paddle, Rohrbach said he got to see a bald eagle and a dolphin. Hammond saw a manatee.

"I was surprised by all the wildlife," Rohrbach said.

The National Geographic photographer is used to paddling, but mostly by canoe. He's done other projects about the U.S., including "Paddling the Yukon" and "Highway Junkie," in which he biked from one coast to another.

The Blueway adventure presented a new challenge to the seasoned adverturer though: navigating windy conditions via kayak instead of canoe.

While on the paddling trip, he'll spend most of his nights camping, so all of his gear was packed into the kayak.

"The kayak is very stable," he said. "But in a canoe, you pack everything in it however you want, just throw it in. But a kayak, you have to plan it out."

He's joined by another photographer, Claudia Axmann, who is documenting him while he documents his location.

Rohrbach started this documentary work in summer 2016, and is traveling state to state in his vintage Ford, which he's named Loretta, and paddling into wild spaces. While in the country, he's doing several miniprojects along the way, including a radio series, blog, and various articles and episodes along the way.

After he finishes the Calusa Blueway trip, slated to wrap up Feb. 1, he'll spend several days touring Lee County's land-side sites.

"Lee County is getting a whole segment," Contreras said.

After spending the afternoon at the Mound House, Rohrbach packed his kayak back up and paddled away to explore the mangrove tunnels and travel north. He's planning to travel upriver, before coming back and visiting sites in Sanibel on the Blueway.

His visit to the Calusa mound on Fort Myers Beach was a connection back to one of his interests in America.

"When I started to travel to the U.S., one of my early interests was Native American cultures," Rohrbach said.

He likes to learn about how different ancient cultures learned how to live and survive on the land they had, and how they used what they had to make a living.

As Rohrbach looked at the picturesque scene from the top of the Mound, he could see why native dwellers and pioneers alike would want the house on top of the hill.

"Being on the Mound House today, seeing the historic house, I would have built here too," he said.



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