Grassy Point Preserve, an area of natural uplands, wetlands and mangrove hammocks fronting Sarasota Bay near the Anna Maria Island Bridge, will have a long-awaited opening at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger announced last week.
The 34-acre nature preserve between East Bay Drive opposite Walgreens and Grassy Point Bayou was purchased by the city in parcels starting in 2000 with funding from the Florida Community Land Trust, and improved and managed through an intergovernmental partnership between the city and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
The city, SBEP and Keep Manatee Beautiful representatives are taking part in the event at the Avenue E preserve entrance.
About two weeks ago, Holmes Beach public works crews smoothed out a 1,000-foot path and added shell in preparation for the opening, according to Bohnenberger.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “The paths are safe to walk on so now it’s time to open it up so the people can enjoy it.”
The shell was purchased from the 2011-12 public works budget.
With $3,000 in grants from the SBEP, the city in the past year has improved the preserve with a shell parking lot, three picnic tables, six shade trees, native plants and a mulch-lined path.
The preserve is also boasts a waterway access for non-motorized craft.
“We are delighted that they are having a grand opening,” said SBEP environmental scientist Jay Leverone. “It is one of the few remaining island hammocks on the barrier islands.”
Bohnenberger said he expects Florida Department of Transportation funding for a $533,000 boardwalk project to be released next year for a walking path that will include water-crossing features in the preserve.
Government officials also have discussed a lookout tower at Grassy Point.
In October 2007, the Southwest Florida Water Management District approved a permit for five years for habitat restoration in the preserves.
In 2008, the city, SBEP, Swiftmud and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service participated in a $91,000 project to restore intertidal wetlands and rare coastal hammocks, removed invasive species, including Australian pines and Brazilian peppers, and also moved spoil berms for nature trails. Another $18,000 went into clearing exotics and planting native vegetation.
Earlier this year Holmes Beach Police Department Lt. Dale Stephenson said the department was ready to patrol the area, while Bohnenberger and public works superintendent Joe Duennes pointed to access and safety issues as reasons to hold off opening the preserve. Bohnenberger also said signage was needed.
In addition to the recent shell path — solving the access and safety issue — Bohnenberger said signage has been added.
He said the preserve will be open to the public 7 a.m. to dusk, beginning Oct. 18.