The public gets involved in plans for Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Nature Park

The city has proposed the park feature a boardwalk over part of the wetlands.
The city has proposed the park feature a boardwalk over part of the wetlands.(City of Sarasota)
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:30 PM EST
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UPDATED Nov. 21 to clarify ownership of the property.

SARASOTA, Fla (CNC) - A conference room at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex was buzzing with conversation recently as 40 community members gathered to hear and chat about plans for the nature park alongside the city of Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Course.

The city already envisions such amenities as benches, picnic tables, a bird blind, a boardwalk and several marsh overlooks, but officials hosted the forum to hear what else residents wanted to see.

“I think we’ve put out there some suggestions, like these improvements, but I think the meeting is essentially for that, to receive input on what people would like to see out there,” said John DePazos, capital project coordinator for Sarasota’s Parks and Recreation.

The park will open Dec. 15, along with the revamped Bobby Jones golf course, in its most basic form, with trails and signs. As designs and ideas come together for further improvements, those will come along by late 2024.

Candie Pedersen, general manager for parks and recreation, says landscaping will be big part of what comes next.

“For us, the thing that makes it a nature park is we’re going to start planting trees and shrubs and ground cover next year,” said Pedersen. “We’ve got about $140,000 from the tree mitigation fund to start that.”

Along with the tree mitigation fund, which collects a portion of tree-removal permit fees for urban canopy programs, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is leading fundraising efforts for other park amenities. Some funding will also be available in October of 2024 from the county’s penny surtax.

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast established the conservation easement, in partnership with the city, on the 300+ acre city-owned property that houses the golf course and park. The Sarasota City Commission unanimously voted to conserve the space in early 2022, ensuring the land will remain a recreational green space.

The nature park was built as part of the restoration of the Donald Ross golf course. The original 45-hole municipal course is now a 27-hole facility – with an 18-hole championship course and a nine-hole short course across Circus Boulevard from the main complex. The park, designed to help filter storm runoff from a large segment of northern Sarasota County, occupies the eastern portion of the original golf course footprint.

Future plans include a proposed link to Sarasota County’s adjacent 17th Street Park and a segment of trail that one day could lead from the Legacy Trail across both properties and eventually to Benderson Park and beyond.

Aside from the benches and tables, those who came to the public forum recommended such things as educational signs detailing the benefits of the wetlands and information on wildlife in the park, larger pavilions suitable for parties or family gatherings and a platform for birds of prey to build nests. One person inquired about accessibility, citing concerns over whether a wheelchair could be used on the crushed shell paths.

“There’s so many birds and other wildlife that are already moving into the area. It’s only going to get better as these habitats mature over time,” said Sarah Denison Williams, Community Education Manager for the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. “So, I think what can make it better is if we can generate enough community support and fundraising to make all of these great ideas, the additions like the boardwalks and pavilions and bird blind, so that we can make it happen.”

The meeting featured a seven-minute slideshow showcasing the city’s proposed park designs, and attendees also had the chance to ask questions and speak with DePazos, Pedersen and Jerry Fogle, Director of Parks and Recreation, about plans for the park. Of the 40 attendees, 28 submitted feedback on provided cards.

Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Connect with her at