Palmetto neighborhood seeks funds to transform pit into lush park

skennedy@bradenton.comNovember 5, 2013 

PALMETTO -- A wild tract in Palmetto's Washington Park neighborhood could be transformed into a lush 88-acre park and preserve with a lake if restoration plans come to fruition.

Neighborhood residents are hoping the former borrow pit in their midst might someday boast a 1,000-meter lake where they can row, canoe and kayak, and perhaps enjoy a pretty upland park as well, according to county officials.

A neighborhood delegation plans to appear Tuesday during the Manatee County Commission meeting to lobby on behalf of a park at the tract east of the U.S. 41 overpass and north of 30th Street East, according to the Rev. Lawrence Livingston, pastor of nearby Eternity

Temple Firstborn Church, 716 29th St. E.

"With the high incidence of young people from our communities committing crimes, we need more recreational activities in our community," said Livingston. "What we're asking for: rowing, fishing, kayaking, the walking and the boating."

A park/preserve could help:

• youngsters who otherwise wouldn't have a rowing facility;

• rehab soldiers wounded in war; and

• walkers who enjoy outdoor exercise and scenery, Livingston said.

The lake would be a training facility since it could not meet specifications for competitive rowing, but it would be so welcome there, Livingston said.

Neighborhood civic groups have been requesting money for the park for more than 12 years, and even have seen some drawings.

In the 1960s, state officials bought the land from a private owner to supply dirt for overpass construction, which left a nasty scar through the neighborhood, said Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen, who toured the area last week.

Over the years, the borrow pit filled with water becoming a pond encircled by a thick growth of nuisance vegetation.

"And what they did divided the community, and created a dead zone in the middle of the community," said Gallen. "It happens to be the black community. They dug a hole right in the middle."

The state then gave the land to the county, and various revitalization plans hatched over the years never materialized. At one point, $200,000 was discussed for it, but the money was used elsewhere, said Livingston.

The county Parks and Natural Resources staff is looking at various options, although there is no money for such a project now, said Gallen.

Department Director Charlie Hunsicker is preparing a report for the commission, Gallen said.

"I've been talking to him, and he did have his staff draw up an environmental preserve with a lake component," said Gallen. "It would be a public park with a boardwalk around it and wetlands, major wetlands, and a lake component where you could have rowing, along with 14 acres of upland for other types of activities."

Should the county find money for a park it would produce notable economic and environmental pluses, Gallen said.

A park would increase property values and encourage development and a restored tract would produce more biodiversity, Gallen said.

"If you put a jewel of a park in this neighborhood, which is very deserving" the quality of life there would improve, Gallen said.

"Older minority neighborhoods, there was a period there where they were discriminated against -- there was not a whole lot of dollars invested there," said Gallen. "It needs to change, and we need to start investing in those older neighborhoods."

A lifelong resident, L. Bradshaw, who lives in the Memphis section of Palmetto, said she welcomes having a park or preserve there. She said she thought about picnicking and a place for her children to play.

"Being a mother, these things would make a difference," she said.

The commission will meet at 9 a.m. at County Administrative Center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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