EAST COUNTY — The 55 acres of wetlands and woodlands were supposed to be another plot of land bulldozed and built back up into a residential development.
When Conservatory Park, a $3.4 million neighborhood nature park north of University Parkway and West of Whitfield Avenue opens later this month, walkers, bikers and fishers can thank homeowners associations from neighborhoods surrounding the park.
Ryland Homes was set to build on the land until Manatee County purchased it in 2004 for $3.4 million. A Florida Communities Trust grant supplied half the money, while the other half came from a local matching arrangement.
“The community wanted this,” said Cindy Turner, Manatee County director of Parks and Recreation. “They pleaded for it.”
The community — the park has 14,345 residential units within three miles — and anyone else, will get a one-and-a-half mile nature trail that connects with a one-mile fitness trail with gym stations.
They will get a 10-acre lake with a fishing pair/observation deck and a picnic pavilion.
The lake also has a canoe launch.
Workers are putting final touches on the park, including obtaining power for restrooms; striping parking areas; and installing the signage.
A nature-like playground will be ready in June, and the park will host 24 education classes per year with Manatee County Schools and the Nature’s Academy in Bradenton.
After working with local homeowners in the Sonoma and Palm-Aire communities, officials decided the park’s east entrance would be at DeSoto Woods Drive, and a north entrance would be at Conservatory Drive.
The east entrance will incorporate a roundabout and small parking area, while the north entrance has a roundabout and more parking.
Work on the property began in July.
Turner expects the majority of park attendees to come from nearby neighborhoods, from the ones who pushed for nature when development came calling.
“I know I will be using the park,” Turner said. “It’s beautiful. It just takes advantage of the area’s natural beauty.”
Click here to view the Conservatory Park site plan.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].