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Bank gives 24 acres to Camp Honi Hanta

EAST MANATEE — Most of the 24 acres along the Braden River was unbuildable because of wetlands. It was also tied up in foreclosure proceedings.

Both factors worked to keep the property wild. And ultimately to deliver it to the Girl Scouts.

Recently, First Bank brought the property out of foreclosure and made a gift of it to the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida Inc. The addition expands Camp Honi Hanta to about 114 acres.

Sandi Stewart, chief executive officer for the 10-county Girl Scout district, said the new property allows more nature study, hiking and camping opportunities for scouts.

The addition also allows consolidation of the campus, and helps ensure campers’ safety. The only way to reach the property is by water or across secured scout property.

Approximately two acres of the property is buildable. One possible future use could be for a large sleeping unit.

Although Camp Honi Hanta, located off 51st Street East and north of State Road 70, is no longer in the boonies like it was when the Girl Scouts acquired it in 1955 — the Sabal Harbor neighborhood and Braden River Park are located nearby — it has been able to maintain its rural feel.

In the still of Thursday morning, Stewart stood on a dock on the Braden River and looked across at the new property, which is being called Okeelanta, an Indian word that describes the muck that is prevalent there.

“When you’re here, you have no idea,” camp ranger Scott Gearity said of nearby development.

One of the few things that can be heard from the neighborhood at Camp Honi Hanta is the Little League games over at Braden River Park, Gearity said.

In 2005, the district purchased 30 acres of riverfront property from the Jewett family for the bargain price of $1.5 million, in the most recent previous expansion of the campus.

Scout officials say the close-in location is an advantage in that the camp has the amenities of city living, including sewer, water, and fire and police protection, without sacrificing any of the scouting culture.

“We bought the property next to us because we didn’t want to leave. We have no desire to ever move,” Stewart said.

Richard Gonnering, the scout council’s property director, said short-term plans for the new parcel are to improve the trails so the scouts can access it for their nature studies.

Anne Lee, First Bank’s retail banking president for Florida, said the more bank officials thought about the property, the more that it made sense to give it to the scout council.

“The majority of it is environmentally protected land,” Lee said.

“What a wonderful opportunity for First Bank to partner with the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida,” Lee said. “Many people at First Bank as well as the Girl Scouts have worked very hard over the last year to make this donation possible. I am so thankful for all their efforts.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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