Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Manatee County commemorates Crooked River Ranch preservation

Crooked River Ranch is the first purchase through the Environmental Lands Management and Acquisitions Committee and will serve as a public preserve.

Commissioner Ray Turner gives a sign to Alice Hunter Bender and Elizabeth Hunter Skidmore to commemorate the transfer of ownership.
Commissioner Ray Turner gives a sign to Alice Hunter Bender and Elizabeth Hunter Skidmore to commemorate the transfer of ownership.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
  • East County
  • News
  • Share

Michael Williamson, Division Chief of the Parrish Fire District, remembered going to the Crooked River Ranch about 20 years ago. 

The area was so desolate that a small building burned down on the property and no one knew until after the fire had gone out on its own. 

“That was unique to me,” Williamson said. “Normally when a fire happens, we get a call.”

Williamson was invited to the ranch under better circumstances March 1. Manatee County was celebrating its $11.2 million purchase of the 68-acre parcel

Crooked River Ranch is located halfway between Interstate 75 and Fort Hamer Road in Parrish. It’s the first land acquisition for the Environmental Lands Management and Acquisitions Committee.

The ranch will serve as a public preserve, but it’ll take at least 18 months to open. The county is installing restrooms, kayak launches, hiking and biking trails, and an observation platform. 

ELMAC Division Manager Debra Woithe said the property is in good shape, offering an abundance of wildlife habitat and very few exotic plants, but some restoration work is needed. 

Plans include pasture and tidal creek restorations. The tidal creeks are being restored to create a more natural flow of water to support wetlands and create additional wildlife habitats.

The concept map for Crooked River Ranch.
Courtesy image

The Florida Communities Trust approved the county for a $1.5 million grant to cover the cost of the amenities and restoration projects. 

“Even just putting in a block of restrooms costs a ridiculous amount of money,” Woithe said. “We shouldn’t have to use more referendum funds because we’re getting a grant.”

The referendum passed in 2020 with 71% of voters agreeing to create financing for the acquisition, improvement and management of conservation lands. 

Crooked River is the first of eight properties on which the county is actively making offers. A 98-acre extension to Emerson Point Preserve and the 238-acre Gamble Creek Preserve are next in line to go before the commission for approval. 

Woithe said there are another six properties in East County that the county is hoping to purchase, but they're not at the offer stage yet. 

The East County properties are nowhere near the size of Crooked River Ranch, but they would make connections between existing preserves to form wildlife corridors. 

Crooked River Ranch was a significant acquisition for the county because it was one of the last remaining privately owned, sizable parcels along the Manatee River. 

“The river here is a working river,” Director of Natural Resources Charlie Hunsicker said. “It gives us a water supply at Lake Manatee and all the way up to Tampa Bay.” 

Including Crooked River Ranch, Manatee County has protected 14 miles of Manatee River shoreline.

Crooked River Ranch sits along the Manatee River and is the first property that was recommended by ELMAC and also purchased by the county.
Courtesy image

The ranch was presented to the county by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast after the foundation contacted the previous owners Alice Hunter Bender and Elizabeth Hunter Skidmore. The ranch was originally owned by their parents, William and Janet Hunter. 

The foundation’s president, Christine Johnson, thanked the Hunter heirs during the ceremony. 

“You could have sold this property many times over, but you chose to conserve it,” Johnson said. “It’s because of you that this special place is protected forever.” 

Hunter Skidmore said the property served as therapy and a refuge for her father and hopes it will do the same for others in the future. 

Commissioner James Satcher said he felt relaxed and as if his blood pressure dropped after taking the 10-minute walk from his car to the river. 

The county set up a few tents to give guests a vision of the future. Woithe said the county will be offering previews of the preserve to the public prior to officially opening, but dates haven’t been set yet.



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

Latest News