If there is such a thing as being preserve-rich, Manatee County may be headed in that direction.
The Neal Preserve on Perico Island on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue West — about 200 yards east of the Anna Maria Island Bridge, across from the Harbour Isle development — held a grand opening April 9, nearly nine years after the county bought the property.
It is Manatee County’s third nature preserve on Manatee Avenue between the mainland and the Anna Maria Island Bridge.
It is the perseverance, dedication and diligence of Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department that resulted in all three preservation parks — and he will likely dedicate a fourth preserve, also on Perico Island, within a year.
More than 200 people attended the opening ceremony and heard from various county officials, including Hunsicker, who opened the ceremony.
Hunsicker thanked developer Pat Neal and the Neal family for donating $6.9 million of the $15.9 million purchase price. Manatee County paid $6 million and a grant for $3 million completed the purchase in July 2005.
That year, Pat Neal — who has developed many housing projects in Manatee County — expressed an interest to county officials in preserving the 120-acre parcel on Sarasota Bay. Following several months of negotiations, the purchase was agreed upon and the Manatee County Commission approved funding.
Neal is a Manatee County native and former state senator, who, in the 1970s, began a successful career in condominium and home developments with Westbay Point and Moorings in Holmes Beach and the Whitney Beach condos on Longboat Key.
Development of the preserve took some time as the county acquired grants the past seven years to improve the property for public use. Hunsicker said nearly $800,000 in grants were obtained from 2006 to 2013 to create the nature trails, picnic pavilion, kayak launch, boardwalk and observation tower at the preserve.
The preserve fronts on Sarasota Bay on the south side of Manatee Avenue West and has trails leading through the mangroves to the water’s edge. It also has a trail connecting it to the Robinson Preserve.
Additionally, Hunsicker said bird, fish and plant preserves were developed. The preserve has a public parking area of crushed shell and several port-o-lets.
The county also has developed the Robinson Preserve on Manatee Avenue West/State Road 64, and the Perico Island Preserve is under construction.
The Neal Preserve is open to the public at no charge.