In 1991 this Park was just another couple of vacant lots with a few clumps of palms and a large exotic Ficus benjamina, in the shade of which were the Pelican Man's shed and pens for rehabilitating injured birds (behind the sign in Photo 1). Up the street at the Anna Maria City Hall, we had just started our "beautification" project -- all exotics donated from residents' yards.
But in that same year, the book "Xeric Landscaping With Florida Native Plants" was published with its comprehensive and site-specific list of indigenous plants. One of the volunteers, Doug Copeland (on the left in Photo 2), had his eye on this land, which, in addition to the bird sanctuary, had an Historical Museum and a Public Works complex on one side. He had also learned of a couple of grants from the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program that would fund the installation of appropriate plantings on public grounds.
The City approved the idea and the grants were secured. When the subject came up of what should be planted, I showed him the book about natives, and suggested that he and his small band of volunteers create a park that would be entirely native -- a radical thought in that year. Thus, with further assistance from Manatee County's Extension Service and Nursery, creation of the first park that would be truly 'of this island' began, and by late 1992, the first phase of plantings was installed. A bundle of names for the park were suggested, the selection was made by a vote of the City''s residents, and it was officially dedicated to be -- quite appropriately -- the "Historical Park."
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Now, as you look at the "then & now" photos, Doug has a message I'd like to pass along. Although everything grows faster in Florida, there are a few relatively slow growing natives, like the Live oak or the Saw palmetto. But look at that little Live oak in Photos 3 and 4, and where it is today. It would have been much taller, if it had not been smothered by that exotic Ficus benjamina that we did not take out until 2004. And those three tiny Saw palmettoes in Photos 5 and 6 reached a mature height in under 10 years. And none of these were ever irrigated except to establish them when planted.
The message is, don't move here and tell us you won't plant a tree, because you won't live to see it reach a mature size. It simply is not true, and the Historical Park is living proof.
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The second phase of plantings did not occur until around 2004, when Tim Eiseler persuaded the City to inaugurate an Environmental Education and Enhancement Committee. We were soon collaborating on a series of small projects upgrading the public landscaping. So, in 2005, we applied as an ad hoc committee of the Historical Society for a Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Florida Yards & Neighborhood Grant. We were awarded $2,000 to enhance the plantings around the Belle Haven Cottage area. The Old Florida cottage had been recently restored after being moved onto the spot vacated when the Pelican Man moved his bird sanctuary to City Island in Sarasota.
In 2006, with yet another Sarasota Bay Estuary Grant, a strip of land along the top of the canal bank was cleared for a path we dubbed the "Mangrove Walk." A line of trees, shrubs, and vines from the maritime forest plant community were planted along the fence of the adjacent Public Works utility area on one side, and saline marsh and wetland plants were planted along the canal bank.