Manatee County enjoying growth in preserves, parks

May 17, 2014 

While Manatee County government has performed remarkably in the development and expansion of nature preserves, the state stepped up this week with a ceremonial dedication at Terra Ceia Preserve State Park.

The completion of the first phase of this ecosystem restoration project encompasses 843 acres of land at a cost of $7.5 million. The entire Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve covers 22,000 acres.

Once farmland and then failed housing subdivisions, the state bought the property in 1998. The Southwest Florida Water Management District partnered with the state Department of Environmental Protection to build wetlands, remove invasive plants and restore wildlife habitats.

While the park lacks such amenities as the observation towers and boardwalks common in Manatee County's preserves, a network of trails allows visitors to view the wildlife and wetlands and enjoy the mangroves and native palms.

Another 233 acres of upland and wetland habitats are targeted for restoration in the second phase, should that project win state funding.

A portion of this tract was once proposed for a giant resort, residential and commercial development called Skyway Preserve, but the idea was aborted. That's a big positive for environmentalists and others who fought to keep this land at the southern approach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge natural.

And now Manatee County is blessed with another place to wander and marvel at Mother Nature.

County's preserves growing

The county's preserves -- almost 30,000 acres -- are growing, too.

• The Neal Preserve opened in April, on 120 acres along Sarasota Bay on the Manatee Avenue approach to Anna Maria Island.

• About 150 acres with amenities galore are being added to the beloved Robinson Preserve, already a West Bradenton people magnet with 487 acres.

• Perico Preserve, near Robinson, is also on course for dedication this year, boasting saltwater and freshwater marshes and a rookery.

Parks aplenty, too

Speaking of outdoor places for the public's enjoyment, new parks are in the works and existing ones are getting upgrades.

• Just this week, the neighborhood surrounding Love Park at 11th Avenue West and Second Street West in Bradenton celebrated the completion of renovations that brought a host of amenities to an aging site. More benches, playground equipment and a new basketball court surface should be well used.

• Also in Bradenton, city officials expect to submit a final proposal soon to the council for a park or preserve along Wares Creek in the Ballard Park community. The city owns four parcels there, and trails and water access are in play.

But Palmetto outpaces every place else in the county with a burst of park work.

• The long-awaited reconstruction of the Blackstone Park baseball fields is on track to host a Palmetto Little League game May 27, a major milestone that will be celebrated with a special dedication ceremony before the first pitch.

• The city is progressing with plans to build Martin Luther King Jr. Park, a family-friendly setting on 5.3 acres behind the Palmetto Youth Center. October is the target date for the public opening.

• The city hopes to convert 88 acres in Washington Park into a park and preserve, including a lake in an old borrow pit. Manatee County continues to study the idea.

• Plus, Palmetto is embarking on a million-dollar upgrade of the popular Riverside Boat Ramp on the Manatee River. Another ramp (bringing the total to three), channel dredging and additional docks are in the works.

All these outdoor public spaces boost our quality of life, allowing economic development officials to bolster business recruitment.

Quote of the week

"All people should be concerned about if this interchange will be built. This is a priority. We are moving full speed ahead on designs, and it will get done."-- Robin Stublen, a Florida Department of Transportation public information officer, allaying local fears about long funding delays in the construction of a $60 million interchange vital to ease traffic congestion at University Parkway and Interstate 75.

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