Live music, activities highlight Bob Gardner Community Park grand opening.
At one moment, Monaca Onstad was strolling along a path at Bob Gardner Community Park, talking about the tranquility of nature and wetland buffers.
Then a Lakewood Ranch minute later, the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch director of community relations was flying down the park's "Gravity Rail," letting out a playful scream and releasing some uncontrolled laughter.
That is, it appears, the point of the 45-acre park, which opens officially April 21 with a celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The park can be different things to different people. Or even different things for the same people.
Onstad is hoping the community discovers that fact at the grand opening celebration, which she said was organized to serve Lakewood Ranch residents and their guests.
"This is a big deal for us," Onstad said. "It is our first major park opening since the Adventure Park (in Greenbrook). We want to showcase every piece of the park."
The park covers almost a mile from its main entrance on White Eagle Boulevard west to Wood Fern Trail, just short of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. Biking trails cover the length of the park, but there is so much more.
Inside the park is a doggy aquatic park, a disc golf course, a tot lot, a children's play area that includes the "Gravity Rail," a multi-purpose field and a pavilion.
"My family and I hike a lot, and it is so serene here," said Onstad, who is a Lakewood Ranch resident. "It's just the atmosphere."
But if the trails are No. 1 for Onstad, the disc golf course is No. 2. She said she might consider joining a disc golf league that will be offered starting May 19 by MVP Sports and Social Club.
MVP Sports and Social Club founder Chris McComas will be on hand during the celebration to demonstrate disc golf, show off the new course which winds through the park and deliver information about the new league.
"We are going to start with an adult league," McComas said. "We need to get the wrinkles ironed out."
At the grand opening celebration, disc golf will be open to everyone.
"The designer (of the course) did a good job," McComas said. "The landscaping is beautiful, it's not too challenging and it's not too simple. I will go over the rules and show how to throw it. We will have other qualified players there to help."
McComas also has organized a "dizzy bat, home run derby" for the event. Competitors will spin five times and then will attempt to hit a tennis ball off a tee. "It has been a huge hit," McComas said.
Those who want to explore the park will be guided by environmentalists from the SMR Stewardship District and from Manatee County. Invasive Brazilian pepper trees were removed, but SMR planted 497 trees to enhance the park.
Live blues will be provided by Sarasota's Lauren Mitchell from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Bradenton's Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones from 1-3 p.m. The Lakewood Ranch Chargers will be on hand to run some pick-up soccer events and a brief ribbon cutting will be held at 11 a.m. The Players Centre for Performing Arts will be running the beer and wine sales.
Special events aside, Onstad said the park has plenty to offer on its own.
"I think people south of State Road 70 will visit this park," Onstad said, noting it will be a destination and not just a park for the immediate community.
McComas works at parks all over Manatee and Sarasota counties and he said people should travel to check out the park.
"This is one of my favorite parks," he said. "It's all the detail they put into it. The trees, the design, the layout. It's so well thought out."