Preserve becomes playground after grand opening
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Manatee County Commission Chair
woman Jane von Hahmann and Bill Robinson, cut the
ribbon to formally open Robinson Preserve to the public.
They came by car, by bicycle, by foot and by boat and after the ribbon was cut, they filled the wilderness with wide-eyed awe.
Several dozen people gathered at the Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton Saturday for the official grand opening of the 480 acres of restored land that will serve as a classroom and playground for Manatee County residents and visitors
Manatee County Commission Chair Jane von Hahmann, of Cortez, made the opening remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, saying, "We are all blessed to be here."
County Commission Joe McClash, the second speaker, called the 480-acre preserve a "dream come true." He thanked Bill Robinson, patriarch of the family that donated the land, for offering it to the county at 25-cents on the dollar of its appraised value. The county purchased the land in 2003 for $16,420,000 minus a $6,420,000 price decrease from the Robinsons and a Florida Communities Trust grant awarded in 2004 for $6,053,000.The net cost to the county was $3,894,000.
The Robinson family originally owned 680 acres of farmland that was approved for development of 460 houses and an 18-hole golf course with a clubhouse. They agreed to sell the 480 acres to the county and keep the other 200 acres for the golf course, clubhouse and 20 homes.
Robinson would acknowledge his contribution to the preserve with a word for others in position to do the same.
"I would like to encourage all developers to do the same thing," he said. "Once houses are built on a piece of land, it is lost forever for preservation."
Another guest at the ceremony was former County Commissioner Pat Glass, who played a part in getting the purchase.
"We celebrate this accomplishment," she said. "This will be another jewel for you to enjoy along the waterways of Manatee County."
Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Department Director Charlie Hunsicker received a resounding round of applause when he was introduced. He thanked Bul-Hed Contractors and Bridge Builders, Inc., for their help in shaping the land for the maximum enjoyment of the recreational enthusiasts who will use it. He also praised conservation lands administrator Keith Bettcher for his hard work.
After purchasing the land, the county spent more than $6 million on restoration and wetland creation. Southwest Florida Water Management District awarded cooperative grants of $3.33 million, the United States Environmental Protection Agency chipped in $595,000 and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection added $300,000. Other agencies such as the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, New College of Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program contributed $415,000 for a total of $4,460,000 for environmental restoration.
With the 120-year-old Valentine House that was brought to the site via boat from Palmetto to become part of the Preserve, in the background, the crowd cheered as von Hahmann and Robinson cut the ribbon.
The crowd then spread out to the walkways to explore the Preserve, which underwent extensive native planting by citizen volunteers who answered calls for help that were printed in The Sun and other publications.
Shortly after, some of them reassembled at the kayak and canoe launching area that is located behind the Valentine House. Von Hahmann again cut the ribbon and more than a dozen people hopped into their canoes and kayaks and headed out for the waterway. The county did extensive work on the Preserve to improve the tidal surge in the waters on the property. This surge will help flush the waters that flow through the Preserve.
After the ceremony, Hunsicker voiced his feelings.
"I think today is a celebration of people’s faith in all levels of government to provide for and protect the environment and nurture its growth to give everyone the joy of experiencing the best of Manatee County," he said.
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