Bryan Moore rears back and launches a neon disc across a small clearing framed tightly by oak trees.
Moore, a professional, sponsored disc-golf player, misses the fairway with his shot and the plastic “driver” smacks into a tree on the third disc-golf hole at North Water Tower Park.
“Well, at least I’ve zeroed in on the tree,” Moore jokes.
North Water Tower Park is tucked into the Bayou Oaks neighborhood. It is only accessible by navigating the snaking side streets from the North Trail or Old Bradenton Road, but it contains one of the oldest and most popular disc-golf courses in Florida.
“I think a lot of people have lived here for a while and don’t even know about it,” Moore said.
But that could change as Sarasota County begins planning the purchase of more than six acres abutting the park on the North Trail.
Commissioners approved a plan to add to the park as part of the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, which already includes 27 approved sites, 16 of which the county has acquired. The 2014 estimated fund balance for the program is $7.4 million, according to a staff presentation.
"The next step would be for us to get appraisals on the various parcels that were suggested to be included as part of that work plan," said Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn Brown.
County staff has targeted three parcels around North Water Tower Park that would expand it east to connect with the North Trail and west to connect with Old Bradenton Road. The three properties are worth $1.03 million, according to 2013 values from the Sarasota County property appraiser.
Although the plan is still in its initial phases, disc-golf enthusiasts, North Trail advocates and local law-enforcement officers hope that expanding the park will improve conditions within the property and spark revitalization along the blighted strip of highway.
The park is heavily wooded and has only one vehicle entrance for officers to use, making the area conducive to street crimes, such as prostitution and drug dealing.
“I think visibility is huge when you're talking about crime,” said Sarasota Police Lt. Jim Rieser, with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
The city of Sarasota has partnered with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to remove invasive species from the park to heighten surveillance. Expanding the park to U.S. 41 would greatly increase that oversight and access.
“I think it'll bring more people to the park who are actually using it for what it’s for,” Rieser said. “And if they’re going to do anything in terms of revitalizing the area, I love it.”
The work plan also fits into the County Commission’s push to expand sports tourism in the area.
Commissioners recently approved the initial design phases of a $2.1 million improvement plan for the Sarasota BMX track at 17th Street (see page 1A), and signed an agreement with Suncoast Aquatic and Nature Center Associates for the operations at Nathan Benderson Park.
A disc-golf tournament could attract more than 120 players with 24 holes, Moore said.
“That’s more people spending the night, spending the weekend and spending money at restaurants,” he said.
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