Neal Preserve almost ready for visitors

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BRADENTON, FLA. -- Manatee County residents and visitors will soon be able to enjoy the newest addition to Manatee County's publicly owned park system, Neal Preserve.

“We purchased the land about 7 years ago and we were able to work with the Southwest Florida water management district, the Sarasota Bay estuary program and a number of other grant sources to turn the property back to its nature condition,” said Charlie Hunsicker, the Director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.

The 120-acre nature Preserve is located just east of the Anna Maria Bridge off Manatee Avenue. The county has been actively working on the land for the last four years.

"It had been overrun with some of the exotics that give us trouble around here such as Australian pines, Brazilian pepper and after removing those plants we were able to put in a natural habitat."

Along with being very beautiful, Neal Preserve also has historical significance as past home of Native Americans.

"There was Indian habitation here, several tribes going back in history and we find that remnants of their settlements here were made of in shell middon and also in some burial sites"

The public will be able to enjoy interpretive signs placed through out the preserve that describe important plants and historic features including the Native American burial sites.

“We do have some middons here which are basically trash piles so it is where the Native Americans would have thrown their trash were they lived, but we also have two burial mounds,” said Melissa Nell, Manager of the Volunteer and Education Division in Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department.

A large observation tower has been built to give guests a great view of Sarasota Bay. Visitors can also walked on elevated boardwalks that meander through salt marsh habitats and a mangrove forest.

”It is a passive area. It is not designed for active recreation but it is an opportunity to learn a little bit about nature, get boned up on the history of the Indians that lived here in Southwest Florida and actually enjoy some of the spectacular views of Sarasota Bay.

The new park is a great place to enjoy wildlife or escape for a few minutes while strolling on a hard packed shell trail and boardwalks.

Neal Preserve is still an active construction site and closed to the public until April 9th. The county will hold a grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting at the preserve at 4p.m. The event will include guest speakers, light refreshments, demonstrations of Native American tool use and naturalist-guided tours of the site.