PALM AIRE -- Once destined to be another Ryland Homes residential tract, a leafy haven dotted with big trees has opened as the new Conservatory Park.
The 55-acre Manatee County park opened Oct. 8 with little fanfare.
Paved walking trails meander through heavy pine and palmetto undergrowth. Yellow wildflowers nod in the sun and locusts buzz in the stillness.
It is tucked away in a heavily developed suburban area north of University Parkway and west of Whitfield Avenue.
"It's really pretty back here," said Karen Ramsey, 36, who was picnicking Monday with her daughter, Ellie, 8, at the park.
They were looking for a playground, but they wouldn't find it, since it is among the last amenities still to be installed, according to Tom Yarger, a Manatee County construction services manager.
Still, there was much to see: 10-acre lake, fishing pier, pavilion with restrooms, observation deck, trails and parking areas. "It is pretty nice, I think it's kept rustic enough," said RayCrucet, former president for the Coalition of Friends of The Conservatory, neighbors who helped during the park's planning.
"It's more toward the natural Florida fauna and that sort of thing," he added.
In 2004, the land was purchased for $3.4 million, with half the money supplied by a Florida Communities Trust grant, and the rest from a local matching arrangement.
The county spent another $1.5 million developing the property, according to Yarger.
"Well, we're all thrilled, of course," said Donna Maloof, president of the Palm Aire Community Council, made up of local residents. "I have talked to a number of people of Palm Aire Community Council, and everybody seems excited about it."
Some have voiced concerns about how the park might affect traffic on Whitfield Avenue.
"I am not seriously concerned about that," Maloof said. "It's a small park, and I don't see it's going to have such heavy traffic. I think responsible people will wait and see."
Crucet said he warned county officials certain parts of the park flood during heavy downpours.
"I'm hoping they'll do something about it," he said.
The park features short paved roads, but restricts cars to a particular area.
"We just found it and came," said Paula Porchello, 65, a retiree walking through the park who lives nearby in Palm Aire. "I like it because it's shady -- there are not too many shady places."