It’s not an unusual site to see Robinson Preserve’s gravel parking lot filled with cars on a Saturday.
Ever since the 487-acre preserve opened nearly two years ago, it’s been a popular place for residents to kayak, bird watch, fish, run and walk.
“Even with the poor weather this winter, we had the same numbers as last year, even though we didn’t have the facility completed,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Natural Resources Department in Manatee County.
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“(Park attendance) numbers were down all around the county ... It’s telling. The preserve offers an experience away from traffic — away from the hustle and bustle of Manatee Avenue.”
On average, the preserve, 1704 99th St. W., has about 30,000 visitors per month, he said.
A couple walked along one of the trails just crossing a bridge shaded by overhanging trees and into a clearing near the newly dedicated Valentine House, a visitors center for the preserve that opened Saturday.
“When you look at that couple walking, you get a feeling that even in summer, it’s going to be a popular place,” he said.
Aside from the new visitor’s center, which is a two-story historic home that sat in Palmetto for more than 100 years as a part of the Preston Family’s Manatee Fruit Co., the preserve also has several other new additions.
Restrooms at the preserve have opened within the past month, as well as picnic tables and grills located in a shady area and a covered pavilion.
Hunsicker said county officials are working with the Robinson family, who donated $6.9 million to help the county obtain the preserve, to purchase an additional 200 acres of land adjacent to the preserve.
There are plans to develop the acres into a golf course, Hunsicker said. However, he said the land would be a scenic addition. There are about five to six banyan trees that are a quarter-acre in size, as well as more than 100 years of growth from plants exported from all over the world planted by the Reasoner family.
“The plants aren’t natural, but from a botanical value, it’s astronomical,” he said. “The Reasoner family brought plants from all over the world. They introduced pink grapefruit to the world right here in Bradenton.”
A couple pulled kayaks from the launching area near the preserve entrance Saturday afternoon.
Charles and Christa Rogalla said they come to the preserve every weekend to kayak.
“We love seeing the wildlife. We love kayaking and meeting other people,” said Charles Rogalla. “It’s close to home. For kayaking, it’s protected normally from the wind. It’s a safe place to go.”
Since it opened, the preserve has become home to more than 100 species of fish since the waterways were connected for kayaking. Before the preserve was set up, there were only four, Hunsicker said.
“What makes this place so special are the people who come here,” Hunsicker said. “I think their imagination is taken up by the serene beauty of the preserve and they respect the property. It’s difficult to get that experience without traveling far away.”
Beth Burger, Herald staff reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.