New White Eagle trail system eventually will connect with all of Lakewood Ranch.
While it might have taken a little longer than expected to come on line, the Robert L. Gardner Park on White Eagle Boulevard just east of Arbor Grande will enjoy one advantage from being a bit late with its revised April 21 grand opening.
Monaca Onstad, the director of community relations for Lakewood Ranch Communities, has had more time to plan a big party.
"We want to have a huge community event," Onstad said. "We hope to get 3,000 to 4,000 people there. We will have things for kids to do, and perhaps a scavenger hunt."
Bob Simons, the president of LWR Development, a subsidiary of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, said in March he expected a four-park system along White Eagle Boulevard to be finished by the end of 2017. Once finished, the system would have 25 miles of trails and many other park amenities.
Gardner Park, however, will be the first of those parks to open.
The overall plan has seen some changes as now it consists of a three-park system. A 15-acre park that was planned for immediately east of B.D. Gullett Elementary has been scrapped. That park was to be turned over to Manatee County to maintain, but the county rejected the offer.
Even so, the three remaining parks will be connected by a trail system.
Patton Park, the farthest south on White Eagle Boulevard and across from Our Lady of the Angels Catholic church, will act as a trailhead. The 88.6-acre park encompasses Kent Lake, the largest of four lakes that make up much of the park's acreage. A playground and a pavilion will be available at the site as will a boat launch for canoes and kayaks.
Onstad said a grand opening also will be planned for Patton Park, about four to six weeks after Gardner Park. She said a fun run or "Furry Scurry," where runners can bring a dog, could highlight the opening.
A paved trail from Patton Park will head north along the east side of White Eagle Boulevard until it goes through a tunnel under the road to the west side, where people can stop at Roger Hill Park, which is just south of Malachite Drive. The 11.8-acre site will have a pavilion and will act as a resting area or for those wanting a quiet, scenic view.
Onstad said Roger Hill Park will open "late in the third quarter" of this year.
The trail then heads north to Gardner Park, which is a 40.8-acre park that is about a half-mile wide and runs most of the way between White Eagle Boulevard and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
The park will have a huge athletic field that will hold a baseball/softball field and the opportunity for other sports. A nine-hole Frisbee Disc course already is in place and two pavilions and a playground have been built. Also in place are three dog parks, one which is a water dog park.
Onstad said the plan is to do everything possible to keep alligators out of the dog water park.
While much of the construction is complete, Onstad emphasized the park is not open. Fields have been seeded and need to mature.
When all three parks are open, Onstad said the trail system "will be a great opportunity to create more community."
Later this year, Onstad said Schroeder-Manatee Ranch will update a trails map to show how trails connect through the entire area.
"We want to update our map so people will know where the trails connect to a sidewalk," she said. "A lot of this is going to evolve over time. All of this is going to be one network and that is really important to us. Having a trail system is at the top of our mind."
The original price tag for the parks was $3 million. The properties being used are owned by the Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District.