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Background Briefing

Sarasota reopens park with new amenities

Written by on Thursday, December 21, 2023

But the 1,600-plus acres of preserve are about to be surrounded by urban sprawl.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Dec. 20, 2023

Host: Sarasota County added a fishing pier and other amenities to a 287-acre preserve next to the Oscar Scherer State Park. That’s the good news. But the park is about to be surrounded by suburban sprawl, and it would make sense to connect it to other, nearby preserves before it’s too late. WSLR News was at the opening ceremony at the Thaxton Scherer Preserve and talked to the man whose family name the park bears.

[Soundbite Pledge of Allegiance and highway roar]

Johannes Werner: That was the Pledge of Allegiance during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Scherer Thaxton Preserve, a county-owned park in South-Central Sarasota County. The roar underlining the recital is that of traffic on nearby Interstate Highway 75. That’s the reality of life in Sarasota County: In the last remaining parts of nature, it’s increasingly hard to get away from massive human presence.

Location of the Scherer-Thaxton Preserve: East of Oscar Scherer State Park, backing into Honore Ave. and I-75.

Suburban sprawl is overwhelming agricultural land in Florida. In Sarasota and Manatee counties, commissioners keep greenlighting construction of thousands of homes on pastureland, breaching long-standing urban boundaries. But at the same time, both county commissions — and the state of Florida — are also taking steps to buy some of that land and preserve it.

The state government this week announced the purchase of 1,500 acres of agricultural land around the headwaters of the Peace River in DeSoto County. Closer to home, the Manatee County Commission last week agreed to buy the 68-acre Crooked River Ranch.

And on Tuesday, Sarasota County hosted a ribbon cutting event for a parking lot, fishing pier, kayak launch area, marked trails and restrooms at the Scherer Thaxton Preserve. To be sure, the preserve is nothing new. The county secured the land 31 years ago, expanding the existing 1,400 acres of the contiguous Oscar Scherer State Park by another 287 acres. The new amenities will make that land more accessible for people in new subdivisions springing up around this big chunk of protected land.

In his pre-ribbon cutting speech, Sarasota County Commission Chair Ron Cutsinger touted the fact that in his county, one-third of the land is protected, one way or another.

Asked after his speech how that jives with allowing new developments on thousands of acres beyond the urban development boundary, he told WSLR News that it “fits very well”. People who live in these new developments, he said, won’t have to travel miles and miles to experience nature.

Commission Chair Ron Cutsinger, center, at the Scherer-Thaxton Preserve.

The commissioner has recently touted eco-tourism as the third leg for Sarasota’s appeal to visitors. In his speech, Cutsinger emphasized access to nature for locals. But what about agriculture, which is on the brink of extinction in Sarasota County?

Agriculture, is “definitely” a concern of this county commission, Cutsinger told WSLR News.

Jon Thaxton is the former county commissioner whose name the park bears. He was a driving force behind the county’s purchase of the preserve, and he featured prominently in the ribbon-cutting event.

In an interview with WSLR News, Thaxton expressed concern that the 1,600-plus acres of the Scherer park complex will soon be entirely surrounded by subdivisions, apartment complexes and strip malls. That means no way in and out for land-bound animals. There still is one way, however: Creating a corridor between the Scherer parks and the Pineland  Preserve land a little more than a mile to the east.

Thaxton

Jon Thaxton: Obviously, there is an opportunity to link Oscar Scherer to the Pine Lands Preserve 1.19 miles from here. And if that linkage were to be made through wetland corridors or wildlife corridors, then the viability of Oscar Scherer State Park and the Scherer Thaxton Preserve will become much brighter, because you will have the wildlife disperse from a 130,000-acre wildlife preserve to this.

JW: But there is a major obstacle: Interstate Highway 75, whose roar was a constant presence during the ceremony. Thaxton suggests creating pathways for wildlife across I-75.

JT: Connecting in the same way we connect the Florida Everglades to Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge — techniques and strategies that you can use for wildlife to get under the highway. It’s not a perfect world, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

JW: And the powers that be? Commissioner Cutsinger apparently heard about the idea for the first time, when asked by WSLR News. But he seemed curious.

Ron Cutsinger: You know, we are doing the bridges for the Legacy Trail and all kinds of trails. I’m not sure, I don’t think there’s anything planned here. You mean for people?

JW: Animals, maybe humans.

RC: I don’t know if there’s anything planned for those. But we [barely audible]…

JW: Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.