MANATEE -- Neal Preserve, the newest addition to Manatee County's network of preservation lands, opens to the public April 9.
Manatee Parks and Natural Resources will host a ribbon cutting ceremony for the public at 4 p.m. Wednesday featuring guest speakers, light refreshments and demonstrations of Native American tool use and naturalist-guided tours of the site.
The 120-acre preserve is located on the south side of Manatee Avenue West, just east of the Anna Maria Bridge. Manatee County purchased the land in 2005 using a combination of local dollars a partial donation by the land owner and grant funding through the Florida Communities Trust.
Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said Neal Preserve is a historically significant site that once was home to two Native American cemeteries.
Lying just below the surface of all of the land were extensive remnants of a very large Native American settlement that extended well north of the site along the coast of Sarasota Bay, Hunsicker said in a news release. It was like finding the footprints of a civilization from long past."
Neal Preserve includes an observation tower overlooking Sarasota Bay; interpretive signs and elevated platform-style boardwalks through salt marsh habitat and mangrove forests; a picnic pavilion; and a hard packed shell trail.