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Work progresses on Perico coastal preserve

MANATEE — Environmental restoration work on 119 waterfront acres along Anna Maria Sound has begun with the removal of exotic plants and a survey of archeological sites.

The Patrick and Charlene Neal Nature Preserve south of Manatee Avenue West at the southeast corner of the Anna Maria Island Bridge is one of Manatee County’s newest coastal preservation efforts.

“It was named for the family for their generous gift,” said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county natural resources department. “This is another outstanding example of public/private partnerships Manatee County will continue to rely upon, especially during this economy.”

Pat Neal, owner of Neal Communities, and his wife, Charlene, sold the land to the county in 2005 for $9 million, considerably less than the $15.9 million appraised value.

“Our kids live here, our grandchildren live here,” Pat Neal said. “We would like to leave something that survives us.”

He said the land, which was developable, will now be in the public domain forever.

Hunsicker said the property could have been developed into commercial and hotel use, “instead the county was given the opportunity to make the purchase at a discount.”

The Neal Preserve is another piece of the coastal land the county has assembled.

“This preserve, in concert with the Robinson Preserve and the property at Perico, form a delicate web of coastal property,” Hunsicker said, “so important to the stainability of the estuarine waterways serving as fish nurseries for sports and commercial industries.”

The Neal Preserve has 106 acres of mangrove wetlands and about 13 acres of uplands where passive amenities will be developed.

The park will include a bike trail, picnic pavilion, interpretive boardwalks, wildlife observation points, and canoe and kayak launch and waterways.

There also will be on-site parking, restrooms and information kiosks. Completion is expected by late 2010.

“We’re so proud of the county,” Neal said.

“They are going to restore the land to a pristine state.”

He said when he bought the property in the 1970s the previous owner had destroyed all the mangroves and allowed non-native Australian pines and Brazilian pepper trees to thrive.

The county has removed all of the exotic plants and has begun restoration and improvement work.

Another benefit of the land are the archaeological remnants of the indigenous peoples who lived on the land about 1,000 years ago.

The state has begun to survey the archaeologically important areas, which will be highlighted along the interpretive boardwalk.

“We have a duty to honor, interpret and learn from these people,” said Hunsicker, “as we move forward along our generational time line.

“These people also enjoyed the natural surroundings and bounty as we do today,” he said.

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