Pickleball courts and hunting grounds are the top-requested park uses in Sarasota County.
As part of the master planning process, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources department held public meetings in Sarasota, Venice and North Port to gather community input on what county residents would like to see developed within the parks system.
The meetings were well attended, said Brie Ondercin, land acquisition manager for the county, with attendance as follows: Sarasota, 138; Venice, 100; and North Port, 16.
Carolyn Brown, director of the department, said although many ideas arose, such as additional environmental conservation and preserves and Legacy Trail priorities, the hunters and pickleball players were the major interest groups that attended.
Hunting advocates want more land, and pickleball players seek more court space.
Hunters seek bull’s-eye
When the Sarasota Sportsmens Association received notice of the meetings from a Facebook post, its members showed up in support of expanding hunting opportunities on public land in Sarasota County. Sixty to 70 members of the local group, which educates youth about outdoor recreational opportunities and land conservation and funds local scholarships, appeared at the Sarasota meeting.
“Sarasota is in need of hunting opportunities,” said Josh Wynn, a Nokomis resident and member of Sarasota Sportsmens Association.
The 8,532-acre Myakka State Forest in Sarasota County has a 7,295-acre public small game hunting area that requires a hunting license and daily permits. Hunting of small game is allowed November through January.
This area is restricted with a limited entry and a quota by the state to prevent the park from overcrowding, but is open to anyone in the state who wants to apply for entry. The state grants entry to a specific number of hunters. Wynn said this is a setback for local hunters, however.
“I’ve applied every year for 15 years, and I’ve never gotten it,” he said.
Wynn compared his experiences in Sarasota to Manatee County’s Duette Preserve. The parkland has managed hunting with more strict regulations than the state, however, it does allow deer and turkey hunting during all the state-mandated seasons. Although there is also a hunter quota, Manatee County residents get a discount on the application and permit fees.
Wynn said he’d like to see more hunting opportunities on Sarasota’s public lands, such as the Carlton Reserve or Pinelands Reserve; with a similar system, the county could generate revenue from application and permitting fees while adding to the scope of recreational and sports opportunities in the county.
County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo attended the Sarasota meeting at Gulf Gate Public Library and spoke in favor of creating more local spots for hunters in the county.
“We send a lot of money out of this county,” he said. “If we have the resources, I’m very much in support.”
The identity of the typical hunter is changing, Caragiulo said. Many people now are hunting not just for sport but also as a part of a farm-to-table mentality that seeks to know where their meat is coming from, he said. He thinks hunters would self-police the care and management of the land.
Pickleball players court county
A different sporting group also came out to the parks meetings to rally for recognition: pickleball players.
The majority of attendees at the Venice meeting supported more pickleball courts, and about 30 to 40 players attended the Sarasota meeting.
Ed Palmer, a Gulf Gate resident, said he and others meet up at the Colonial Oaks Park, Arlington Park and Englewood Sports Complex pickleball courts. He’d like to see a bigger facility, such as the Englewood complex, in the northern area of the county. Many of the courts are taken over by students in camps during the summer, Palmer said.
“We need one with indoor and outdoor courts, and not affected by the schools,” he said.
Terry Wingate, another local player, likened a larger complex to Nathan Benderson Park in terms of the opportunities it could bring.
Wingate envisioned a center like this hosting events such as the Florida Senior Olympics Championships. Wingate attended this event last year, and said more than 250 people participated in the pickleball tournament, and more than 2,300 people attended the entire event. The national championships rallied 10,000 participants and 2,500 pickleball players.
“It would get revenue,” Wingate said.
“(Hunting) is peaceful. It’s a natural heritage.”
– Casey Kinsey, Sarasota County resident