News Columns & Blogs

Manatee County – It’s the sweet life

Why do we live here? Page through this magazine, published every year by the Bradenton Herald, and you’ll see the epitome of good living:

Spectacular weather. Here it is, the middle of November, and the neighbors’ kids are still splashing in the pool. And summer’s humidity has disappeared, bringing just enough of a cool breeze to declare with relief, “Autumn in Florida.”

A small-enough community with a huge heart. Where else can you find so many benefits to help everyone who needs a helping hand? As the jobless rate set new records and the economy shuddered in the past few years, volunteerism and fundraisers have expanded their reach throughout Manatee County.

Green spaces. Manatee County has preserved much of its natural beauty for generations to come, with a dozen conservation areas stretching from Robinson Preserve to Duette. Of the county’s 43 parks, Happy Tails Canine Park in G.T. Bray is one of our staff’s favorite haunts.

The islands. The beaches on Manatee County’s two barrier islands, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, are among the best in the world. The value of our slice of heaven really rang true this year, as we dodged the ecological disaster of the BP oil spill. It was a sobering reminder that we can never take that blue water and white sand for granted. The community has banded together to protect that beauty and champion our shores.

Old Main Street. This quaint strip is increasingly becoming a destination in Bradenton. You can enjoy the Farmers Market on Saturdays, Get Down Downtown on the first Thursday of the month, happy hour on the deck at Mattison’s, and performances at Manatee Players. In the past year, everything from arts festivals to rock ’n’ roll concerts have been added. Just a block away, the South Florida Museum has added dozens of attractions and events. The heart of Bradenton offers everything from fine dining, cigars, coffee, antiques, a library and some of the best hot dogs around.

Village of the Arts. This transformed neighborhood boasts Florida’s largest art community, with dozens of artists living and working together in more than 40 galleries and studios. And it proudly became the site of downtown’s first commissioned public art this year. The streets come alive during “art walks” held the first Friday and Saturday of each month, and most galleries are open every Friday and Saturday.

The MLK Parade in Palmetto. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision shines brightly here every year as hundreds of children parade through the streets of Palmetto, with festive floats, memorable speeches, high school marching bands and barbecue galore.

McKechnie Field. The sounds of spring training in the heart of Bradenton make sweet music in March. Now the boys of spring are quickly followed by the boys of summer, with the Bradenton Marauders proudly taking to the field. They even made the playoffs in their first season this year.

A master plan that works. For thousands of Manatee residents, Lakewood Ranch provides a community all its own: shops, business parks, nature preserves, its own hospital, polo grounds and, of course, premiere golf courses. This 8,500-acre mecca is the largest green-certified community in the United States.

I know this all rings a bit pollyannish as our community continues to struggle through one of the worst recessions in many of our lifetimes. But that makes it all the more important to cherish what we have.

So, take a break. Enjoy “Living Here.” This is home, sweet home.

Joan Krauter, the Herald’s executive editor, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 2000.