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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 3 years ago

Historic Osprey fishing pier sits at heart of community

by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

The Osprey fishing pier is a simple, unassuming structure stretching out into the bay. Tucked away from plain sight, it once drew residents together for celebratory events such as picnics and fish fries.

If someone didn’t know where it was, they might turn around before reaching the end of the paved road, thinking they’d missed it. There’s barely room for one car to park in the small lot.

The pier has been abandoned after two years of closure due to the deteriorating concrete foundation. The plain wooden structure is blocked from access.

However, the pier used to be the center of the Osprey community for decades, from the early 1940s well into the ’70s.

Jon Thaxton, an Osprey resident and former District 5 county commissioner, remembers the essential role the pier played in his youth, back in the 1960s.

“Everybody went there,” he said. “It was the focal point of the community.”

Every summer, Osprey would hold an annual boat race in the bay. Community organizations, such as Osprey Baptist Church, would hold picnics and fish fries off the pier. Back then, the pier had a larger plot of land for people to come and spend the day. Even commercial fishermen used it to launch their nets there, Thaxton said.

For others, it provided a fun and relaxing place to watch the sunsets.

Thaxton’s fondest memory of the pier was the day some fishermen pulled a giant manta ray out of the Gulf. It was so big a wrecking crane was called in to pull it out, and, even then, the crane couldn’t lift it all the way out of the water, he said. He remembered reaching out to touch the skin of the magnificent creature.

“It was a mammoth,” he said. “Its fins could wrap around the truck of the crane.”

The beloved pier closed in May 2012 after county engineers inspected the aged concrete foundation and found it to be dangerously deteriorated.

The plan was a simple reconstruction project, with no major changes to the design of the pier, said George Tatge, manager of beaches and water access parks for the county.

“Normally it’s quick to get a permit,” he said. “We were thinking it would be built and done by now.”

However, the federal government’s Fish and Wildlife Department had identified a “critical management area” to the south of the pier — the area was thought to be a breeding ground for the smalltooth sawfish, an endangered species, said Rob LaDue, the county project manager.

A biologist studied the water nearby to make sure construction would not negatively impact the fish if they frequented the water near the pier.

After nine months, the federal department cleared the area cleared for construction and the project was able to move forward.

The county received the federal permit in January and had an engineer complete the project design.

The building permit was received in July, and the project was issued a notice to proceed. Construction is slated to start this month. The project costs $300,000 but received a grant from the West Coast Inland Navigation District, LaDue said.

The pier is set to be open again in December and will be ADA accessible.

“It’s a major community asset,” Tatge said. “The pier fills a niche for old-style fishers.”

The picnics and festivals ended in the late ’70s, long before the pier closed, as private individuals bought Osprey’s waterfront property near the pier. But the pier remained dear to the community’s heart, and fishermen used it until it closed.

“It’s been hard on a lot of people,” Thaxton said. “I can speak virtually for everyone in Osprey that we will be thrilled to have it back again.”


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