CORTEZ – At the edge of the main parking lot at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival is a fringe of green, the edge of the 95-acre FISH Preserve, made possible by the modest admission price paid by thousands of festival fans over the past 35 years.
The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) purchased the last, long-coveted privately owned parcel last summer from Iris LeMasters, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who had offered it at $1.2 million 12 years ago, inviting buyers to “Build your Florida dream home on this one-of-a-kind half-acre bayfront lot completely surrounded by preserve.”
FISH paid $185,000 for the land, making the preserve 95 contiguous acres of uplands and wetlands bordered by Cortez Road to the north and mangrove-fringed Sarasota Bay to the south, serving as a buffer between the historic fishing village of Cortez and development to the east.
The preserve and the 35th anniversary of the festival were only two of the things FISH celebrated this year.
Festival volunteers Peg Miller, Sam Valeris and the Cortez Park crew were honored with awards, along with Capt. Soupy Davis, 90, for his contributions to the fishing industry and his fiddle playing at the Florida Maritime Museum’s monthly Music on the Porch jam sessions.
The pioneer award was presented to the unofficial matriarch of Cortez, Mary Francis Fulford Green.
The granddaughter of Cortez pioneer Capt. Billy Fulford, she graduated from Bradenton High School in 1942 as valedictorian. She attended the Florida State College for Women (later Florida State University) in Tallahassee, earning a doctorate in education.
A great-grandmother, founder of Hope Family Services and longtime community activist, “She has done everything in her power as a mother would to protect what she sees as her special child – this village,” FISH board member Jane von Hahmann said in presenting the award.