County vision preserves Manatee's wild, scenic lands

December’s grand opening of Jiggs Landing along the Braden River adds another gem to Manatee County’s growing number of top-notch nature preserves.

Visitors attending the ceremonies on that sunny day witnessed the resurrection of an Old Florida fish camp that served generations of outdoor enthusiasts.

The seven-acre Jiggs parcel, which sits at the intersection of Linger Lodge and Braden River roads, holds small rustic cabins similar to the ones that first graced the property in the 1940s when Al “Jiggs” and Agnes Metcalf opened the camp.

Several months before the grand opening, boaters and fishermen took advantage of the new boat ramp to head out on the water.

A wooden boardwalk stretches across the length of the park, even out onto a point with a commanding view of Evers Reservoir.

With a pavilion, concession stand and picnic shelters, kayak and canoe launch, dock and mooring spots, Jiggs Landing will no doubt create many more memories in the years to come.

Over the next two years, the county’s Natural Resources Department plans major progress on four new preserves -- a boon to nature lovers.

Manatee County’s preserves contribute greatly to our quality of life. Anyone who has visited the sprawling Robinson Preserve since its opening several years ago can attest to that.

This immensely popular 487-acre spread, home to wetlands and coastal habitats in northwest Bradenton, attracts about 30,000 joggers, bikers, kayakers, canoers, dog walkers and nature lovers a month. Observation towers and platforms provide vantage points for viewing the abundance of plant, bird and marine life.

A historical wonder

Robinson’s greatest attribute, though, could be its location -- closer to a large population than Emerson Point Preserve. That 365-acre Snead Island park, north of the Manatee River and west of Palmetto, is Robinson’s equal is all things nature -- also filled with multi-use trails and boardwalks set up for habitat viewing, and a canoe and kayak launch that allows paddlers access to tidal canals and Terra Ceia Bay.

Home to the centuries-old Portavant Temple Mound, Emerson Point wins hands down in the historical competition. Florida Amerindians are thought to have inhabited the point between the years 800 and 1500, depositing fish bones, pottery shards, shells and other refuse onto the mound. A historic pioneer home sits nearby.

Perhaps you read about Emerson Point in the Herald on Dec. 20. That’s the date we kicked off our series on Manatee County’s laudable collection of beautiful and fun parks and preserves. The next installment, on Robinson, is in today’s edition and a followup story will appear Monday.

Log on to Bradenton.com/ourparks to keep up with the occasional series. There, you’ll find additional information, too, including a map, list of amenities, accessibility information, a time line and more.

The old and new preserves

Manatee County is also home to the 21,000-acre Duette Preserve out east; the Rye Preserve, northwest of the Lake Manatee Dam, and Leffis Key, on Sarasota Bay across from Coquina Beach.

Although the environmental millage that allowed the county to purchase such sensitive lands as Robinson and Jiggs was discontinued four years ago, Manatee is leveraging the remaining tax funds to gain grants for the four new preserves.

Environmental restoration work on the 119-acre Neal Preserve began last year and will continue next year with the addition of boardwalks and an observation tower. The waterfront parcel along Anna Maria Sound consists mostly of mangrove wetlands with nine acres of uplands.

Progress is also expected in 2011 on the Ungarelli Preserve, 30-plus acres on Palma Sola Bay off Cortez Road; the 158-acre Perico Preserve, across Perico Bayou from Robinson; and the 3.5-acre Walker Crews property, on the Braden River near Jiggs Landing.

We commend the Manatee County Commission and Charlie Hunsicker, the longtime director of the Natural Resources Department in Manatee County, for their vision and dedication to creating a lasting legacy of great nature preserves.