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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Cortez eyes wildlife center on Preserve

Making a permanent home for distressed wildlife while filling in some blanks in the FISH Preserve is the goal of the 2005 Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival next week.  

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, sponsor of the festival and of the Preserve, is buying three lots from "Shorty" Wilkerson at the edge of the Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage Preserve, at the east end of the historic fishing village.  

FISH plans to turn the lots' house over to the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center that Gail and Ed Straight have operated for two decades in Bradenton Beach.

The four most recent festivals have paid for the Preserve, which FISH bought for $250,000 from the Schewe estate. Price for the 150-by-150-foot Wilkerson property is $160,000, and this year's festival is expected to raise a sizable part of that, said Karen Bell, FISH treasurer.  

FISH is to buy another single lot in March, she said, paring to 11 the number of privately held lots within the Preserve. Most are interior lots with no possibility of development, while the Wilkerson property is at the edge of the Preserve with access from Cortez Road.

The "Shorty house" is four bedrooms, two baths, said Linda Molto, Cortez artist and activist who has long urged Cortez to "adopt" the wildlife center. "It's a perfect fit for both," she said. "What could be better?" Part of the deal is to make sure "Shorty" has a suitable home to move into in Cortez, and Bell said that is being arranged.

Not only will the transaction fill out the northwestern corner of the Preserve and provide a home for wildlife in need of rehabilitation, it will remove that entity from Bradenton Beach where a few neighbors have objected over the years to having the animal shelter in their residential area.

Gail Straight said none of the details and terms have been worked out, but she's "very excited about the venture."

The "Shorty house" is the only home ever built in what has become the Preserve, FISH president Allen Garner said. The 95 acres of mangrove wetlands and some uplands was platted originally as the "Cramptons of Cortez" subdivision in the 1950s, he said. Only a few lots were ever sold.

FISH plans to close on the three lots later this month, when money from the Feb. 19-20 festival is in hand to finance the transaction, said Bell.

Though the Straights were not available for comment, Molto noted that their operation has been mainly in their garage, yard and often the rear part of their residence in Bradenton Beach.

"This would give them much more room so they could isolate the ill creatures in a medical area," she said.

The new Cortez site should allow the Straights "space for educational programs, and a flight area to see if treated birds are recovered enough to go back to the wild."