MANATEE — Already a destination spot for locals and visitors, officials hope a $37,000 grant for tree restoration will help increase the popularity of Robinson Preserve.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded the grant to Manatee County to pay for native trees and other plants to create an edge effect or transitional habitat for birds along several of the trails at the preserve in northwest Bradenton.
The installation of native trees and plants is a continuing of the restoration work to return the farmland back to natural coastal and wetland habitats, said Max Dersch, the west county supervisor with the Manatee County Natural Resources Department.
“The restoration will occur only a few feet from where people walk,” Dersch said. “They’ll be able to see the year-to-year change as the plant grow and fill in.”
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Plans for the two-year process of planting are to include volunteer events allowing the public becomes involved with the installations, he said.
Judy Hetherington, who lives on the east side of the county, said she was looking forward to some trees being planted because some of the trails need more shade.
“I like this park,” Hetherington said. “I love nature.”
Even though it was a bit of trip for her from East Manatee, she wanted to bring Michelle Borders, who was visiting from Dallas, to Robinson Preserve.
“This is nice,” Borders said. “You get to see a different kind of environment.”
The 487-acre preserve was restored to the natural salt-flat marshes and mangroves ecosystem it was before it was drained for a gladiolus farm in the early part of the 20th century.
Visitors can now see fish jumping in several ponds and lakes carved out of the landscape or white egrets poking around the waters’ edge looking for a bite to eat.
A pair of eagles have returned again this year to nest, causing the park management to detour kayakers and canoeists around the nesting area.
Along with the miles of water trails through the natural flora, the park has about 4 miles of walking and biking trails, some paved, some packed shell.
Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county Natural Resources Department, said there were more than 30,000 visitors in February, the highest monthly number since the park opened to the public in 2007.
“We’re anxious to welcome our winter visitors back,” Hunsicker said. “I don’t think people knew the park would provide the variety of experiences we all discover there.”
The preserve was a surprise for Susan and John Zwakman, of Sarasota.
They read about the park and wanted to check it out as a trip destination for the Spanish Point volunteers.
Susan Zwakman is the chairwoman of the volunteer committee at the historical site in southern Sarasota County.
“We wanted something different for this trip,” she said. “We’re going to bring about 20 volunteers up.”
John Zwakman, who said he and his wife enjoy biking, said he was very impressed with Robinson Preserve.
“There are some very nice bike trails,” he said.
“We were talking about also bring our bike group here.”
During their visit, the Zwakmans climbed to the top of the three-story observation tower to check out the view.
From the tower you not only see all the features of the preserve, but you can see the Sunshine Skyway bridge, the mouth of the Manatee River, DeSoto Park in Pinellas County and Anna Maria Island.
It was to the tower that Gail and Ed Elmore were taking their out-of-town guests.
The Elmores live just down the street from the park and visit it every so often.
“We’re lucky to have so much preserve land around us,” Gail Elmore said.
Wendy Thurber, Gail’s sister, and her husband, Jimmy, were visiting from Bernington, Vt.
“It’s amazing to see so much plant life, and the variety,” said Jimmy Thurber. “It’s very impressive.”
That’s why Dersch thinks the grant is so important.
“The additional vegetation will create more habitat for birds, which will provide greater opportunities for the public to see nature up close,” he said. “It’ll also have the added value of improving storm water quality before it reaches the coastal waters.”