LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Outsiders to Lakewood Ranch may feel like some resources there aren't fully available to them. Gated communities and an air of exclusivity may create a feeling that the stunning, well-maintained public parks of the Ranch aren't open to non-residents.
Not so fast. Tracie Hunt, field office manager for Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, says everyone can enjoy the parks.
"They're paid for by public money," Hunt said. "You can't really limit who comes in, and there's no real enforcement."
Manatee County owns and operates three parks in Lakewood Ranch: Greenbrook Park, Country Club East Park and Lakewood Ranch Park.
"They're there for the community to enjoy," said Cindy Turner, director of parks and recreation for the county. "You can come from Parrish, west Bradenton and other parts of the county."
Lakewood Ranch Park is a popular one in the area. The 150-acre park is home to facilities for soccer, tennis, football, basketball, baseball, softball and even racquetball.
"It's a larger district park that serves a larger area," Turner said.
The other two were built smaller to serve as neighborhood parks for people within a five-mile radius, but that doesn't mean that others can't come in, Turner added.
The other five parks -- Greenbrook Adventure Park, Heron's Nest Nature Park, Summerfield Community Park, Country Club Community Park and the Braden River Nature Trail -- are owned, maintained and paid for by Community Development District funds, which is why they're much bigger and boast nicer amenities.
For example, Greenbrook Adventure Park has an inline skating rink, myriad ball fields, a large playground, trails for walking or jogging and a dog park. (The dog park, however, is only for resident use,
Marie Tannus, a Lakewood Ranch resident, brings her two children to the park at least one afternoon a week as part of their home schooling regimen. Other moms and dads who home school their children show up, too, so that all their kids can play together. But not all the parents are residents.
"I'm open to everyone using the parks," Tannus, 43, said Wednesday.
She points out that the CDD parks have signs that say the parks are for residents and guests and that the bathrooms are only accessible by key card.
"If I was to come as an outsider or visitor, I would feel like I shouldn't be here," she said.
In Summerfield Park, Jody Hughes and her two twin boys, also home schooled, enjoyed lunch under the pavilion with friends. The Lakewood Ranch resident prefers having the parks less busy and likes that they feel closed off.
"I love that it's quiet. There's more freedom for kids to play and it's not as crowded," said Hughes, 41.
Other parks were empty on a recent weekday afternoon. Five landscapers were finishing up their lunch at Greenbrook Park. One laid on a bench while another reminded them they had 10 minutes left.
Across the Ranch, Country Club East park was bare except for the sound of more landscapers' whirring string trimmers. Hunt said she encourages non-residents to visit the parks and reserve pavilions for events.
"They're public parks," she said. "Anybody can use them."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter
Country Club East Park
15015 Masters Ave.
6655 Greenbrook Blvd.
Lakewood Ranch Park
5350 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
Braden River Nature Trail
Located near Lakewood Ranch Blvd. and Hidden Rivers Trail
Country Club Community Park
8256 Legacy Blvd.
Greenbrook Adventure Park
13010 Adventure Place
Heron's Nest Nature Park
In Summerfield, at the end of Summer Meadow Drive
Summerfield Community Park
6402 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.