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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Cortez to celebrate Preserve payoff: 'It's ours!'

With the weekend's Tour of Historic Homes putting the funds for the FISH Preserve far over the top, Cortez on Saturday will celebrate making its final mortgage payment.

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage will host a ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 3, just west of the Preserve to celebrate owning the property "free and clear."

FISH has been buying the 95 acres of mangrove wetlands and some wetlands just east of the historic fishing village. It is a nature preserve forming a buffer impassable by developers, keeping the Old Florida quality of life the village cherishes.

Saturday's ceremony will see the culmination of four years of festivals, a just-completed home tour, and other fundraising efforts. Successful efforts, as witness the four payments that will climax and end with final $63,000.

The payment comes from $60,000 raised at the Cortez Commerial Fishing Festival in February, plus more than $10,000 from the past weekend's Cortez Village Tour of Historic Homes and Silent Auction.

Totals from the latter are not yet totted up, for some winning auction bidders still haven't picked up their purchases and paid for them, said Linda Molto of FISH.

Karen Bell, FISH treasurer, said of the Preserve payoff, "Funding came from all over. Every penny raised came from private donations. Not one cent was povided by a government entity. What an incredible thing to achieve!"

The "mortgage burning" ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday will be at the new bridge over the tidal creek at the end of 119th Street West. Parking will be available at the old schoolhouse and at nearby Cortez Bait and Seafood.