MANATEE -- A crowd turned up Monday to hear plans for a 150-acre expansion of the county's popular Robinson Preserve and got a history lesson as well.
Part of the expansion area along the southeast edge of the original Bradenton preserve was once owned by the Reasoner family, which founded a pioneering nursery and landscaping business dating back more than 100 years, said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County natural resources director.
Sometime during the early 1900s, the Reasoners took ships to Africa and South America and brought back plant cuttings they thought would thrive in the Florida climate, he said.
They pioneered cultivation of red grapefruit and introduced many other novel species, some of which remain in land the county is adding to the original 487 acres of Robinson Preserve, Hunsicker said.
"They are 80 to 90 years old, and beautiful," said Hunsicker of the mature specimens.
That will be one of thetreats visitors will enjoy,Hunsicker said, duringan informational meeting attended by about 40 at the Palma Sola Botanical Garden.
The new acreage might open in 2017, Hunsicker said, after restoration beginning in December 2014 is concluded.
He expects money from
the 2010 BP oil spill settlement will be granted to the county for the $4.1 million expansion and restoration. The Southwest Florida Water Management District may also help fund the project, he said.
After the presentation, the crowd gave Hunsicker and two staff members an ovation for acquiring and restoring the preserve at 1704 99th St. NW.
"I want to say 'Thank you,' " said Kim Fabre, 57, who lives nearby and goes there often. "It's been so amazing; there's always something different to do."
Rod Niemann, 66, director of logistics for Pierce Manufacturing, said: "It was very interesting to hear about Robinson Preserve. I didn't realize what it was in the 1910s and '20s." An avid biker, Niemann likes to ride 25 miles from his home to the preserve and back, he said after the meeting.
Expanding the county's preserve, which already draws 300,000 visitors every year, is expected to help solidify it as one of Tampa Bay's most significant eco-attractions, Hunsicker said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.