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Date of Issue: August 06, 2008

State presents county millions for Neal Preserve

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Manatee County acquired Neal Preserve, shown in this aerial view, near the Anna Maria Island Bridge in 2005 and soon plans to begin restoration work. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The state of Florida last week presented Manatee County’s board of commissioners with $2.2 million to put toward the past purchase of Neal Preserve.

The county acquired the preserve - located on Perico Island on the south side of Manatee Avenue near the east end of the Anna Maria Island Bridge - in 2005, anticipating receipt of a grant from the state to help fund the discounted $9 million purchase from developer Pat Neal.

The $2.2 million check came from the Florida Communities Trust.

“Neal Preserve is a wonderful property that will greatly enhance the corridor of outstanding conservation lands in Manatee County,” Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham said in a news release. “I am delighted that Manatee County and Florida Communities Trust have established such a productive partnership to safeguard precious natural and historical resources.”

The county next hopes to secure a grant for conservation work at the site.

In March, county commissioners authorized the Manatee County Natural Resources Department - formerly known as conservation lands management - to seek a $500,000 grant for work in the preserve from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under the Recreational Trails Program. The amount would be split between the state and the county.

As part of the management plan for the area, the county has committed to providing a recreational trail - a quarter-mile, multiuse loop trail with a boardwalk and benches - which could be funded with the DEP grant.

Water borders the preserve on three sides.

County conservation officials hope to remove the stock of Brazilian pepper trees and Australian pines in the uplands area later this year, possibly in late September, when the nearby AMI Bridge is closed for repairs.

Though the preserve is not open to the general public, passersby can glimpse the abundant wildlife in the area - and kayakers can get an even better look at brown pelicans, herons, roseate spoonbills, egrets, osprey and an occasional eagle.

Portions of the preserve also can be linked to the Perico Island archeological site. A large shell midden once extended from the site of the preserve, with a burial mound and cemetery actually located in the preserve.

Over time, the acreage became farmland, mostly for row crops. Now, according to county conservation officials, the preserve is destined to become a site on the Perico-DeSoto Trail, which also includes Leffis Key in Bradenton Beach, Perico Preserve on Perico Island, Robinson Preserve and the Geraldson Community Farm in west Bradenton and Riverview Point Park near DeSoto National Monument.

“The acquisition of Neal Preserve works in concert with several other FCT acquisitions to preserve an irreplaceable alignment of coastal habitats in lower Tampa Bay,” said county natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker. “These properties, along with our commitment to careful, long-term management, will anchor our coastal quality of life and the recreational and economic values that make up the very fabric of Manatee County.”

The Southwest Florida Water Management District also has supported the Perico-DeSoto Trail project, including work at Neal.

The county has received cooperative funding from the water management district to restore and enhance habitat intertidal wetlands and uplands in Neal Preserve.