Four unihabitated islands in Sarasota Bay off the coast of Longboat Key play host to what Florida used to be, Rusty Chinnis says.
Rusty Chinnis had an idea.
It was 1988 as he was walking along Bayside Drive in Longbeach Village when he picked up a copy of the Longboat Observer and a headline caught his eye — Sister Keys for sale, all four of the islands.
That’s when he thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have one island in Sarasota Bay without a building?” Chinnis said.
He rallied like-minded people to gather the money and ultimately raised $50,000 to buy the islands just east of Longboat Key. But, the asking price was $1.5 million.
That’s when Chinnis made a pitch to the town. Because Longboat Key had recently drafted a comprehensive plan and needed more open space, it seemed like a good idea.
The deal — using the money Chinnis and his friends raised and funding from the town — was finalized in 1992.
Chinnis has spent more than two decades now taking care of Sister Keys, working with St. Joe Co. to rid the island of invasive species and Sarasota Bay Watch to clean trash that had collected on the islands over the years.
“It’s something that I had an idea and with the help of a lot of people, we made it into what it is today,” Chinnis said. “If we didn’t do something, there would be houses on this island.”