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Outdoors options aplenty in East Manatee

Far from the sign on State Road 64 that tells drivers (or hitchhikers) from the east that Bradenton is the “Friendly City” lies a unique outdoors scene spread out in eastern Manatee County.

Where the Gulf of Mexico, the bays and the great Manatee River have turned into slivers of rivers and bayous and wide-open parks and reserves.

This is where outdoors enthusiasts go for space. After all, isn’t that what the outdoors is about? Where you’re either in sight of no one, or in sight of other outdoors goers?

Before you head east, or from whatever direction you’ll be coming from, take your pick. Will it be fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hunting, shooting guns, camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, bird-watching or just sitting on a picnic table and meditating?

Eastern Manatee County has it all.

Start off with the Manatee Gun and Archery Club at 1805 Logue Road in Myakka City. To get there from Bradenton, take S.R. 64 east and head north on Logue Road and follow the signs to the gun range. There are ranges for pistols, rifles, machine guns, plinking, a pistol range, rifle range and archery.

Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Daily range fees are $5 for members, $18 for non-members, $10 for junior non-members, $5 for archery, $20 for a non-member on the 1,000-yard range and $10 for members on the 1,000-yard range. Call 322-0055 for more details.

Of course, going to the gun range naturally leads to hunting, and Duette Preserve in eastern Manatee County, a 22,000-acre preserve located mostly within the Lake Manatee watershed, is the best around. It’s a decent hunting spot for wild hogs, turkey and deer.

Hours are 10a.m. to 6p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Those interested must pre-register at the check station on Friday, Saturday or Sunday for weekend entrance.

That takes care of hunting and shooting. For some great fishing, camping, hiking or horse riding, check out Lake Manatee State Park, nine miles east of I-75 on S.R. 64. Admission fee is $4 per vehicle for up to eight people. Camping fee year round is $18 plus tax.

Just east of the park is a series of trails called “Gopher Trails” that winds just south of Lake Manatee. The sugar-sand trails are great for hiking and horseback riding. Those wanting to bike the trail might want to consider bringing mountain bikes because the sand is like mud to churn through, although that makes for a punishing workout.

Call 741-3028 for more details.

Finally, for some canoeing and kayaking that you won’t forget, Rays Canoe Hideaway on the Upper Manatee River is the spot. Ray’s Canoe Hideaway is 5 1/2 miles west of the Lake Manatee dam. To get there from downtown Bradenton, take S.R. 64 east before taking a left on Upper Manatee River Road. After several miles, turn left on Hagle Park Road (look for a canoe sign on the right) and take it to the end where you can follow a sign.

If a kayaker or canoer is quiet, they may see otters, gators, turtles and an abundance of birds.

When the dam is closed, the rivers’ tides typically are not overwhelming for the average paddler.

Call Ray’s Canoe Hideaway at 747-3909 for more details.