Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

County Looks Forward by Preserving Its Past

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

County Looks Forward by Preserving Its Past

Article excerpt

BRADENTON

The Neal Preserve, darling of Manatee County hikers, naturalists and archaeologists, just got a new group of fans.

Girl Scout Troop 324.

"I thought this was a park," said Nicole Stratford, 11. "I didn't know this was a preserve kind of thing. I learned that things can be preserved for a long time."

Gianna d'Alessio, another 11-year-old, focused on the natural beauty of the 120-acre Perico Island preserve.

"I liked the cotton tree," she said. "I'd never seen that before."

Upland cotton -- Gossypium hirsutum -- is one of many attractions along the boardwalks of the Neal Preserve. Signs also offer information on Native American burial mounds, which were first excavated in the 1930s.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of parks and natural resources for Manatee County, spoke at the grand opening of the Neal Preserve last Thursday.

He praised Bill Burger, a local archaeologist, for more than 30 years of research. He called preserving the Neal site a historic opportunity.

"This is another footstep along a very long path," Hunsicker said. "Our obligations here are for ourselves and future generations."

The Neal Preserve lies just south of State Road 64, with an observation tower offering views of Sarasota Bay, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

"Gosh, this is pretty," said Cris Singer of Bradenton. "I left Florida for a while -- I went to the mountains -- but I'm glad to be back."

Changing times

Manatee County used federal grants and local money to buy the Perico Island site for $9 million in 2005. It spent another $1.5 million to build the preserve.

Several generations of the Neal family attended the ribbon- cutting. Pat Neal, a prominent local builder, talked about how views of the land had changed over the years.

In the 1950s, earth and shell from the site helped build roads in Bradenton. In the 1970s, mangroves were cleared by a development company because it feared stronger environmental regulations. …

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