Manatee opens 120-acre Neal Preserve east of Anna Maria Island

HERALD STAFF REPORTMarch 11, 2014 

MANATEE -- Historic Neal Preserve will become the newest addition to Manatee County's publicly owned preservation lands system April 9.

Manatee Parks and Natural Resources will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. that Wednesday with guest speakers, light refreshments, demonstrations of Native American tools and naturalist-guided tours of the site.

The 120-acre preserve is on the south side of Manatee Avenue 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 calls Neal Preserve a "historically signif

icant 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. "It was like finding the footprints of a civilization from long past."

There was also evidence of two Native American burial sites, which were examined by the Smithsonian in the 1930s. Though the sites are no longer on Neal, preservation efforts created demonstration mounds to show their location.

Neal Preserve boasts an observation tower overlooking Sarasota Bay. Interpretive signs around the land describe the historical features, Native Americans burial mounds and the plants used by Native Americans.

There are elevated platform-style boardwalks through salt marsh habitat.

Traditional railed boardwalks wind through mangrove forests. There is a picnic pavilion and a hard-packed shell trail.

Information: Go to mymanatee.org, call 941-748-4501 or go to facebook.com/manatee.natural.resources.

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