Chappie Park dedication celebrates namesake, natural Florida

Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie has seen some changes in his community since he moved to Bradenton Beach more than 30 years ago.

One welcome change is taking place on a little patch of beachfront where, thanks to Chappie and like-minded friends and government officials who halted a planned development, a passive park is planned.

The John R. Chappie Gulfside Park at 1402 Gulf Drive N., across from the Tortuga Bay motel is an inconspicuous, small patch of Gulffront paradise, easy to miss even when you’re looking for it.

That’s fine with Chappie. He relishes the thought of the park being so inconspicuous in its natural beauty that people might not even notice it.

The non-native exotic plants and trees are being removed and new plantings in their place will be beach-friendly native plants and trees.

Plans call for a no-impact learning area in the center of the park, not much more than a clearing covered with crushed shell, where those interested in the environment, birds, turtles, wildlife and natural Florida will be able to gather and leave nothing more than footprints.

Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, will contribute her knowledge of sea turtles and other wildlife at the park by creating informational placards.

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby worked toward this day for a long time as chair of Bradenton Beach’s capital improvement projects committee. He was smiling broadly at the dedication.

Chappie Gulfside Park is being funded strictly with donated funds. Resort-owner and Bradenton Beach resident David Teitelbaum attended the celebration. He donated to help make the park a reality, as did the Bermuda Bay Club homeowner association, represented at the groundbreaking by Erica Page.

And so when the time came for the official groundbreaking, as Chappie and Cosby posed with the golden ceremonial shovel and donors, residents and city officials and staff looked on, no one wanted to disturb so much as a shovelful of sand and toss it aside.

Instead, the shovel rested with its tip barely piercing the beautiful soft white sand, just enough for the photographers to get pictures and, in accordance with the park’s purpose, doing no harm and leaving nature undisturbed.

Completion of the park, named to honor Chappie in October 2011, is expected in early 2015, but don’t look for any glaring changes.

Other than the removal of the berm, which Cosby pointed out is not a natural dune, things will be very similar to what existed all along. There will be no parking, although a trolley station is planned at the park’s modest entrance on Gulf Drive.

Chappie, a former Bradenton Beach mayor and commissioner, said, “We have a moral obligation to preserve, protect and enhance our shoreline and dune system. We’re going to be judged by how we leave things.”