Plans for ‘Re-Wilding’ Land Plots on Display in Sarasota | Florida News

By EARLE KIMEL, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Conservationists hope to turn a grassy area next to popular celery fields in northern Sarasota County into a “wild” space.

The idea for the 33 acres at the western end of the 400 acre Celery Fields is to create a forest that would attract birds next to a site that is already a bird sanctuary, to make it even more favorable to wildlife.

“Right now it’s just fields of grass in these three plots. It’s like a lawn, basically,” said Sam Valentin, spokesperson for the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

People can get their first look at the concept plan for the “Re-Wilding of the Quad Parcels” at a Saturday open house hosted by the Conservation Foundation and the Sarasota Audubon Society.

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The Quad Parcels, so named because they straddle the intersections of Palmer and Apex roads, are located just east of Interstate 75 near Fruitville Road, east of downtown Sarasota.

The northwest parcel already contains the Sarasota County Apex Road Fire Hall.

The foundation and Sarasota Audubon hope the transplanted native plants and trees will provide refuge for a variety of wildlife.

“We’re going to create a woodland area to attract different woodland birds and songbirds and a whole host of other wildlife attracted to the woods,” Valentin said. “We will be bringing in additional water that will not only filter the water before it enters Philippi Creek and the bay, but will also provide additional habitat for waterfowl.

“We’re going to be working on creating more of a littoral zone in the existing pond that’s there, so it’s more of a shelf and less of a drop, which will also help waders.”

The open house is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday at the Audubon Nature Center, 999 Center Road, Sarasota.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to come and answer their questions and see our designs first hand,” said Valentin.

The project management team includes site plan engineering firm Kimley-Horn, construction manager Willis Smith Construction and Steve Suau of Progressive Water Resources as the owner’s representative.

The plots are still owned by Sarasota County — a conservation easement was placed on all three plots by the County Commission in 2019 and made official in 2020 — and Suau was instrumental in creating the celery fields when he was working for Sarasota County.

The concept plans, which have been developed over the past year and a half, are about 60% complete, Valentin noted. That’s enough to give the public a preview, but not enough to determine the construction costs of what will ultimately be a multimillion-dollar project.

The foundation and Sarasota Audubon are working on fundraising efforts and have so far received contributions from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

The Sarasota Audubon Society will manage the properties. For more information about contributing to fundraising efforts, visit conservationfoundation.com/quads or sarasotaaudubon.org/donate.

ENSURING ENVIRONMENTAL CONTINUITY

Many of the environmental practices that will be used in the rewilding process align with those outlined in the Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways — which Suau helped write — that the Gulf Coast Community Foundation released in January 2021.

Planned passive recreation opportunities include hiking trails, shaded picnic areas, ADA-compliant walkways, bird-watching platforms and awnings, and a children’s discovery area.

Once the plan is advanced, beyond 80% completion, the specific nature of this equipment – ​​for example whether there will be bird blinds or simply observation decks – will be defined, along with the cost.

Ultimately, the concept plan must be approved by Sarasota County.

The staggered construction schedule will be established later, with the issuance of permits also influencing it.

Kimley-Horn is currently involved in a similar process, improving the 80-acre Warm Mineral Springs Park in North Port.

Parking is currently planned for the southwest plot, which will also include a solar pavilion and restrooms and a native vine tunnel. It will be connected to the other two plots by crosswalks on Apex and Palmer roads.

The southeast parcel features a stream, a mix of native trees and prairie land, and access via a gravel road.

The northeast parcel, centered around an existing lake, includes an osprey nest, an extended shoreline area and access via a concrete sidewalk.

Viewpoints on the benches are provided in these two areas.

Valentin pointed out that the wildlife habitat offered in the quad plots is intended to complement the celery fields.

“There you have a lot of wetlands – there’s not really a forested area,” she said. “So this wooded area is going to be additional habitat that doesn’t already exist in the celery fields and will attract an even greater diversity of birds.”

One of the main goals of the Quad Parcel project is to help protect the Celery Fields from the industrial and commercial development currently occurring to the west.

“At the same time, it will create new wildlife habitat and there will be opportunities for passive recreation for the community,” Valentin said. “So while the focus is on this additional diverse habitat, it will also be a place of community enjoyment – ​​much like the celery fields are a place that has become a real community treasure.”

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