Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast hosts a celebration and walking tour of the preserve.
During a celebration of the newly formed Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Preserve at Braden River June 2, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh looked out at approximately 80 people who supported the project and who had gathered along the Braden River.
"Because of all your hard work, a miracle happened," Baugh said.
Baugh said she has never seen a time when the county and its residents worked so hard together to accomplish a goal. On May 22, Manatee County closed on its $3 million purchase of a 32.9-acre parcel from Myarra Property Joint Venture, which includes Neal Communities. The property had been targeted foe development.
Instead, the parcel combined with 11.6 acres from the estate of Carl Bergstresser to form the new preserve. The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast raised $1,029,000 it gave to the county to go toward the purchase.
The Community Foundation hosted the celebration at Bergstresser's home, which is likely to become a park ranger's home. Friends of Keep Woods members, who were so valuable with their campaign to educate the public about the need for a preserve, along with those who supported the preserve with monetary donations, were invited.
"This was quite an accomplishment," said Phil St. John, a member of Friends of Keep Woods. "A lot of people spent hundreds of hours and went through a lot of twists and turns, and hurdles, to get this done."
Braden Woods' Brenda Russell, one of Friends of Keep Woods founders, said failure was not an option for her group. She told those assembled at the celebration, "This was Carl's little slice of heaven."
Bergstresser helped form Friends of Keep Woods, but died in July, 2016.
"This is where Carl lived, and this was his vision," said Gary Hebert, one of the driving forces behind Friends of Keep Woods. "I'm so ecstatic. This was over two years of work."
Charlie Hunsicker, the director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, said there is no hurry to plan improvements for the park, which will include a shelter, an information kiosk and an improved trail. "We have seven of these locations this side of the interstate and four people to manage them," he said. "But we do want to make sure people who come here feel safe and comfortable."