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Sarasota Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 1 week ago

Sarasota organizations hope for greener area around Celery Fields

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Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast and Sarasota Audubon Society share their hopes for the Quads.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

When Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert said, “We don’t want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” during a November meeting, she wasn’t singing Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” She was talking about the often-contentious area surrounding Celery Fields. 

During a Nov. 7 meeting, county commissioners voted to approve a conservation easement for three of the four parcels – sometimes referred to as The Quads — adjacent to Celery Fields. This means the northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants will remain green indefinitely. 

“For what we’d sell this land for, it’s just so minimal that it’s not worth it,” Detert said. 

Now county staff will begin plans for the area in a partnership with leaders of Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast and Sarasota Audubon Society, who said they would like to see more green spaces added in the area. 

“If there isn’t anything to look at while you were at Celery Fields, then it would just be another workout facility,” said Christine Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation. “For us, it’s really important to protect and help grown this area that is an economic driver for our community.” 

In order to help protect Celery Fields, Johnson said county leaders need to ensure the wildlife doesn’t leave the area due to industrial use adjacent to the park. The conservation easement is one step closer to that goal, she said, because it protects the two eastern quads, closest to Celery Fields. 

Rob Wright, the conservation chair for the Audubon Society agreed, stating The Quads will now act as a buffer between Celery Field and a waste-transfer station that is planned for a 6-acre lot just east of Interstate 75 at Porter Road and Palmer Boulevard, adjacent to the southwest corner of the Quads.

Additionally, the easement will allow the county to create a different habitat, Wright said. Currently, Celery Fields is marsh-oriented because the Celery Fields is primarily a stormwater retention area. 

The new habitat will help attract different birds and other wildlife, Wright said. 

“If there had been industrialization on that area, it would have pushed the bird population farther into the Celery Fields because they need a buffer from the rest of humanity,” Wright said. “This land is going to provide buffering so that the critters can actually expand outward.” 

Johnson said she’d like to see each the addition of more trees and shrubbery on each of the parcels, with a woodland habitat added to the southern parcels. 

“It’s really about making a native, beautiful area that will attract wildlife that will in turn attract people who want to walk through a woodland area just like they walk through the wetlands on the Celery Fields side,” Johnson said.

Wright said county staff would need to do an assessment of the soil to see what types of trees would grow. The land was once used to grow celery, hence the name, and has been exposed to insecticides and other chemicals that could keep certain types of plants from growing. 

Nonetheless, Wright said the greenery will be necessary to not only keep the animals healthy, but to help those who use the park truly feel like they’re in nature. 

“The fact is, this area truly is a gem in the middle of Sarasota. It will be our version of Central Park at some point,” Wright said. “When you think of all the development going up around it, it’s going to be a place where you can get back to nature without having to drive too far.” 

Wright said he’d like to see more trails, especially ones that are accessible, and the addition of benches so that all can enjoy the nature. 

These types of additions will mean a large cost, Johnson said, and the organizations will rely on community support. 

“It’s a Herculean effort for all these organizations to come together and bring it to fruition and we will need the community to come together with their philanthropic dollars,” Johnson said. 

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