BRADENTON – Birds twittered right on cue as Charlie Hunsicker welcomed hundreds of people to the grand opening of the NEST at Robinson Preserve this afternoon.
The director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department thanked the Mosaic Company Foundation for funding the Mosaic Center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology, along with architects, engineers, builders, government officials and other key players in the project, presenting them with plaques featuring nests and eggs.
Visitors enjoyed cupcakes topped with woven sugar and cinnamon nests with gumdrop eggs as they explored the elevated tree house education center.
Kids tested the slide and the net ladder connecting the classrooms to the outdoors, while adults walked the elevated boardwalk around the NEST, which meanders through old-growth trees.
The parks department’s interpretive programs for all ages, including the Tall Tails Tribe preschool class, Green Explorers experiential play group, Wild FL 101 adult lectures, nature-based photography classes and Tai Chi, will be held in the NEST. Under the NEST, animal exhibits and a marine life touch tank will be built.
A play area is planned under nearby towering exotic trees on what is known as the Reasoner tract. The exotics will not be removed, as they normally would be in a preserve restoration, because of their value as “heritage landscaping,” according to county officials. The Reasoner family has grown trees and plants in Manatee County since 1881, when Pliny Reasoner settled in Oneco (“one company” – Royal Palm Nurseries) and built a nursery business.
The NEST is surrounded by 150 acres of the Robinson Preserve expansion which will never be developed under an agreement with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which bought the land with Mosaic Company Foundation funds and donated it to the county.
The expansion, still under construction, will have kayak launches, storage tubes and trails, mangrove tunnels, covered parking, a 1.6-mile, low-impact rubberized jogging trail including Heartbreak Hill, wildlife viewing, hiking and biking trails, scenic overlooks, bridges and more.
It borders the 487-acre Robinson Preserve, which was purchased by the county from the Robinson family in 2002 for $10 million, in part with a $6 million grant from Florida Communities Trust.
The entrance of the NEST is at the corner of 9th Avenue Northwest and 99th Street Northwest. Robinson Preserve’s gates are at the western end of 17th Avenue Northwest in Bradenton and on the south side of Manatee Avenue west of the Perico Island Bridge.