A group of residents thinks a new name is a crucial step toward building a better neighborhood park.
Where is Fruitville Road Park?
A small group of people living in the neighborhoods surrounding the park would wager you couldn’t find it on a map. You might not even be able to find it if you were looking at it.
“Most citizens we’ve spoken with about the park have said, ‘I didn’t know that’s a park,’” said Edie Kaplan, who lives in Glen Oaks Manor. “‘I thought it was just undeveloped land.’”
That’s a problem they’re trying to solve as part of an ongoing effort to improve the 3.5-acre property located at — spoiler alert — the northeast corner of Fruitville and Beneva roads.
They think they’re close to an important step in the right direction. They’re hopeful the city will soon approve a new name for the park: Circus Trail Nature Park.
One might wonder why that name is such a big deal. At the Oct. 19 Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board meeting, five of the residents made a case for the significance of a new moniker.
The first and most obvious reason is a matter of clarity (and effective branding). Just more than two miles from Fruitville Road Park, east of Bobby Jones Golf Club, there’s a county-owned park called Fruitville Park. The duplicative names create confusion, the residents say. A distinct identity will make it easier to raise awareness that the park is there.
Second, the name plays off of some notable characteristics of the little-known park. Norm Dumaine, a Glen Oaks Estates resident, points out the park is located in close proximity to what was once the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus.
A historical marker at the entrance of Glen Oaks Estates signifies the former presence of the circus. The street on the north end of the park is called Circus Boulevard. The multiuse recreational trail that runs along the west side of the park is called Circus Trail. In a region that isn’t shy about celebrating its circus heritage, residents thought it made sense to do the same.
“It’s who we are,” Dumaine said.
Not satisfied with just “Circus Trail Park,” the group working to improve the park wanted to acknowledge another one of the property’s potentially defining attributes. Fairway Oaks resident Linda Herrera discussed the possibility of making nature a central focus of the park.
That goes beyond just well- maintained landscaping. Herrera envisioned an educational opportunity, with signage teaching visitors about the plant life throughout the park.
“This park is already rich with its natural resources waiting to be discovered,” Herrera said.
Residents got a letter of support from Wilma Holley, a program specialist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Sarasota. Holley agrees that Fruitville Road Park could become an “educational and recreational destination.” She said extension officials would be willing to help plan some improvements.
In October, the parks board voted unanimously to recommend the city rename the park Circus Trail Nature Park. The board expressed excitement about the possibility to transform the property into a genuine public good. On Nov. 6, the City Commission directed staff to bring back an agenda item regarding the name change.
Dumaine said the item is tentatively scheduled for consideration at a January meeting. With the support of Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle, residents hope signs bearing the name Circus Trail Nature Park will lead to more improvements in the future.
The group is determined to capitalize on its momentum — and to communicate the urgency of the matter to city officials.
“Without a name change, we lose a golden opportunity to enhance our communities and the lives of Sarasota’s citizens,” Dumaine said.