EAST MANATEE -- If Tom Sawyer had his Mississippi River, Sandy Metcalf had her Jiggs Landing.
Saturday during the grand reopening of Jiggs Landing, Metcalf talked about losing her mother and father at a young age and growing up under the care of her uncle and aunt, Jiggs and Agnes Metcalf, who owned the fishing camp from 1943 to 1967.
She found solace in swimming and fishing in the Braden River -- never mind the occasional alligator or water moccasin -- and played “space cadet” in a long-gone Brazilian pepper tree. Even cutting seven acres of grass and selling fishing licenses to visiting anglers was an adventure, she said.
“No one seemed to mind coming here to visit beyond rustic. They came to fish,” Metcalf told a crowd that gathered to see new cabins built in an old-fashioned style, a new boat ramp, boardwalk, and more at the corner of Linger Lodge Road and Braden River Road.
“Uncle Jiggs and Aunt Agnes would be very pleased to see the transformation here,” Metcalf said.
County Commissioner Donna Hayes said the county purchased the property in 2005, when it was a dilapidated relic set among modern East Manatee neighborhoods such as Tara and Whisper Bend.
The reopening follows a year of renovations. Jiggs Landing will be a treasure for years to come, Hayes and fellow Commissioner Larry Bustle said.
Denise Kleiner, founder of the Old Braden River Historical Society, had tears in her eyes as she talked about the restoration of the park.
The significance of Jiggs Landing is not only in its history and environmental impact, but also in the feeling of community it brings, she said.
“We must protect what remains,” Kleiner said.
Ed Hunzeker, county administrator, called Jiggs Landing a “special place” and “jewel” among Mana- tee County public lands.
“This is a special place to be on a winter morning in Florida,” Hunzeker said.
Even as neighbors and others gathered for the ceremony, Evers Reservoir and the Braden River stayed busy with boaters and anglers providing a moving backdrop.
“It’s a beautiful lake. It’s hard to fish, but it has a lot of fish,” said Capt. Doc Lee, a local angler who opened his ice chest to show a large crappie he had caught.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.