LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The most treasured part of Riverwalk might not be its sprawling homes, perfectly paved roads or the antiquated notion of neighbors knowing neighbors.
No, Riverwalk's hidden jewel is a sacred piece of untouched land in an area already filled to the brim with homes, shopping plazas and corporate parks.
The Braden River Nature Trail.
Located on the west side of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, between Riverwalk and Summerfield, the Braden River Nature Trail is an unpaved loop that cruises around Trophy Lake, where fisherman can throw a line for bass, through the forest and around Otter Lake, an
other nice venue for catch and release.
Walkers and bikers have created the trails by beating down on them over the years. As a result, there are plenty of little paths that vein off the main trail. Fair warning: these wild trails are for the adventurous only. Here, you are destined to see an alligator, a colorful bird or even a snake slithering through the thick forest.
Riverwalk resident Cherrie McDonough loves a good walk on the two-mile trail, which eventually connects to the much more tame Heron's Nest Nature Park in Summerfield.
"There's lots of trails around here that I don't even think the general community is aware of," said McDonough, 63. "There's quite a lot of woods exploring and walking, which I really enjoy doing."
Riverwalk is a 430-home neighborhood with five subdivisions lining Lakewood Ranch Boulevard: Riverwalk Grove, Riverwalk Hammock, Riverwalk Meadow, Riverwalk Oaks and Riverwalk Ridge. The community was first developed in the late 1990s. Bruce Williams Homes, which developed all 49 homes in Riverwalk Hammock, was a primary builder.
That's what drew Sy Bricker and his wife, Lucy, to the neighborhood 13 years ago. The New Yorkers loved Bruce Williams' open floor plans and how the area was brand new. The Brickers built a home and expanded it four years later to include panoramic views of the preserve in their backyard. The couple also expanded a bedroom, which would become Sy Bricker's stamp room. At almost any time of the day, Bricker, who is on Riverwalk's homeowners' association board, can be found tinkering with his vast stamp collection.
Riverwalk is known for the friendliness of its people, Bricker said. Newcomers can expect a knock on their door from welcoming neighbors. Residents on vacation can rely on others to pick up newspapers that can litter front lawns.
"We feel that we had bought a good investment in terms of ... friendships with neighbors and being able to go out and take walks and everybody says hello when you see them and they see you," said Bricker, 70, a retired middle school social studies teacher.
Paul Kraft, another pioneering resident, moved to the community after he scored a job as a designer for The Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota. He's seen the neighborhood evolve as families grow up, as kids move out and as original owners sell their homes.
"When we first moved in, everybody was new to this area. We had block parties. We had pool parties," said Kraft, 75. "And as the development changed in terms of people moving out and others moving in, it lost some of its cohesiveness."
While there may not be neighborhood events going on every weekend, the women of Riverwalk host a popular bunco game every month. And the annual Halloween party at the end of a cul-de-sac in Riverwalk Hammock is designed for meeting new neighbors and forming bonds.
"The reason for the party is because there is a changeover. In any neighborhood, you're going to get a changeover," Bricker said. "It really is an old-fashioned neighborhood. You don't get lost in it."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.