EAST MANATEE -- More than a few residents of Garden Lakes say they are living the fairy tale life.
The exquisitely maintained land condominium community roads twist through picturesque oaks that could be home to a colony of gnomes.
"My wife fell in love with the walking paths. At night it feels like a resort with the twinkling lights," said Woburn, Mass., native Arthur Tourkantonis.
If the visual appeal of Garden Lakes were not enough, residents say they like the fact they don't have to worry about maintenance for anything outside the exterior of their homes.
Painting, lawn maintenance, tree trimming, and all the other chores most homeowners have to do are managed for the residents of Garden Lakes.
"One master association takes care of the recreation area, roads, irrigation, garbage collection, and cable TV," said long-time resident and retired Sarasota Middle School Principal Mary Lou Moore. "We have one of the best deals."
The community of 295 residences and about 500 residents is off 37th Street East about one-half mile south of State Road 70 East.
Garden Lakes has four villages of single family homes and four villages of attached villa homes. Amenities include an exercise facility, tennis courts, pool, shuffleboard, and a Brighthouse channel for sharing Garden Lakes news.
Completing the 55-plus community is an active social scene: frequent community parties, a pool aerobics group, bridge clubs, a beach club, a travel group and more.
"There are a lot of opportunities. We don't have to sit around our houses," Moore said.
Roland King opened Garden Lakes in 1983 and Mary Lou Moore moved in two years later with her husband, George Moore, a retired engineer and talented artist.
George Moore has since passed on but more than 60 of his paintings, many of them family portraits, grace the Moore home, and the sign "George's Studio" hangs over the room where executed his artwork.
"We loved Garden Lakes because of the trees," Moore said recently.
At the time, State Road 70 was still a two-lane road, and Peridia to the north and Lions Head to the east had not been built.
"You had to go to Oneco to buy groceries," Moore said of development around Garden Lakes in 1985. "My only concern now is that development is coming too fast."
Tourkantonis, who practices law in Massachusetts, began visiting Bradenton because he had an aunt here. He and his wife bought a home in Garden Lakes in 2002.
"I just like Florida. I like the fact that there is no snow," he said.
Sometimes Bradenton residents complain about traffic, but Tourkantonis says local traffic does not compare to the nightmare gridlock -- what he calls the "rolling parking lot" -- of the Northeast corridor.
He calls driving in Massachusetts a white-knuckle experience while driving in Bradenton leaves him singing.
James and Natalie Simari also hail from Massachusetts. They said they liked what they saw in Garden Lakes and the fact their home came with a garage was the dealmaker.
James Simari said he also likes the facilities at Garden Lakes, which have helped him stay healthy well into his 80s. "You have the best opportunity in your lifetime to take care of yourself in retirement," he said. "You don't have the added stress of working."
When he is out walking and exercising, he likes to look Garden Lakes over.
"It looks as good if not better than when we moved here," Simari said.
Simari and Tourkantonis are good examples of residents who get involved in the community and get their hands dirty to make improvements.
"The people are willing to volunteer, which helps keep management fees low," Moore said.
Garden Lakes is such a friendly place its helps create a feeling of security, what Simari calls a "safe haven."
Natalie Simari, a native of Weymouth, Mass., says anytime she goes to the clubhouse, she can always meet someone and make a friend.
Richard and Betty Wilson, originally from West Virginia, moved to Garden Lakes in 2007, and like many others were attracted by the trees.
They felt drawn to the beauty and security of Garden Lakes, as they downsized from a 3,600-square-foot home up north.
Besides, Betty Wilson said, "I just love older people anyway."
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.