Terra Ceia Park lovers: ‘It’s part of our lives’

MANATEE -- Seth Stinson came home to Palmetto from the University of South Florida/Tampa to go to a gigantic Stinson Super Bowl party Sunday.

But there was one bit of family business he needed to take care of before the Packers and Steelers.

As tradition dictated, Stinson and his sister, Renee, had to take their usual walk at Terra Ceia State Park Preserve, close to their home in northern Manatee County.

So why would a college boy and his sister, an employee at Popi’s Place III restaurant on U.S. 41, want to spend part of their Super Bowl Sunday at a 1,988-acre wetland and upland habitat?

“We were born and bred here,” Renee Stinson said, pointing to the open sky and blue water canvas below it framed by splashes of every shade of green. “We both grew up coming out here fishing, boating and walking.”

“It’s quiet, has a nice little boat ramp and is not very busy,” Seth Stinson said. “You will find stingrays, horseshoe crabs and eagles as you paddle around.”

The Stinsons and, perhaps, many others, find it unsettling that Terra Ceia is among a list of 53 state parks that may be closed by the state of Florida due to budget deficits.

Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton is also on the list.

Terra Ceia is among state parks with a low attendance -- 6,676 visitors in 2009-10.

State officials said the low attendance was one of the criteria for a park to get on the list.

While its fate is decided by the state, the Stinsons and other park fans are enjoying its fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching and nature walks amid tracts of sea grass beds, mangrove swamps, salt barrens and salt marsh.

“I hope it doesn’t close,” said Seth and Renee’s mom, Kathy.

“When the children were young, my husband, Ken, and I would bring them here for fishing and picnics.”

Ken Stinson, who, like his wife, graduated from Palmetto High in the mid-1970s, is one of 10 children.

Nine still live in the Palmetto area and those nine still come to Terra Ceia regularly, Kathy Stinson said.

“We all fished growing up,” Kathy Stinson said. “If we couldn’t fish from a boat we fished off the Green Bridge in Palmetto.”

Headquartered at 130 Terra Ceia Road, Terra Ceia park was purchased by the state and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for the purpose of protecting Tampa Bay water resources.

From its location on Terra Ceia Island, the park provides boaters easy access to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

“It’s just easy to get out into open water and find good fishing from here,” said Palmetto’s Rusty Hall, a road builder with Prince Construction.

Hall boated back into the waters of Terra Ceia. Hall and his daughter, Jordan, caught 21 spotted sea trout around Terra Ceia, including three 15-inch “keepers.”

“How much can it cost the state to keep this up?” Hall said later. “It can’t be that much. I would say they get a lot of bang for their buck from Terra Ceia.”

A friend told Riverview residents David and Erin Kleinow about Terra Ceia’s easy boat launch capability and they came for the first time Sunday.

“It’s beautiful here and it’s one of the few things left you don’t have to pay to enjoy,” David Kleinow said. “It looks like a great place to canoe or kayak.”

“People need places to go,” David Kleinow added. “Places like this is why we work and why we live in America.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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