All About Our Parks and Preserves
Nature’s beauty is abundant in the Bradenton Area but keeping it that way takes a bit of intervention from the people who call it home. That’s why the Love it Like a Local campaign has set out to recruit the area’s many visitors to become stewards of the animals, plants, and natural landscapes the same way our local residents do—people like Sarah Denison, Crystal Scherer and their team of nature enthusiasts at the Manatee County Department of Parks and Natural Resources.
It Takes a Village
“We put on anywhere from 40 to 60 free public environmental programs for people of all ages every single month throughout the parks and preserves of Manatee County,” says Sarah Denison, Education and Volunteer Program Manager. She and outreach specialist Crystal Sherer do more than just educate and entertain people with nature-centered events. Their team is also responsible for protecting and nurturing the area’s parks, preserves and beaches.
“Our core team consists of three education specialists, a volunteer coordinator, our division manager, and then Crystal who runs our special events program,” Sarah explains. But that’s not all. “We also have a volunteer program with over 400 volunteers who help us out with everything from taking out the trash to planting native plants, removing invasive plants and more. So, we’re busy,” says Sarah, who loves sharing her passion for nature with visitors and locals alike.
Keeping it Green
One of the ways her team protects the wildlife is by conducting prescribed burns, or controlled fires. Before Florida was heavily populated, lightning would cause fires that would sweep across the landscape in a patchy pattern, clearing out the underbrush and making room for new growth. Indigenous plants and animals have not only learned to survive these events, but they also depend on them to thrive.
While the main reason to conduct these burns is safety, Sarah shares another important reason. “When you go out a few weeks after a burn, you’ll see all this fresh green growth bursting forth from the forest floor. Our animals, like gophers, tortoises, and rabbits, really benefit from having that clear understory where they can easily traverse the landscape and get to their different food and water resources. It also returns nutrients to the soil.”
Taking it All In
The passion and knowledge Sarah has for what she does is contagious and reminds us that nature’s beauty is meant to be enjoyed. “We’re trying make sure that they have a good time while they’re out here,” she says. The programs she and her team put on allow people of all ages to do just that. Led by knowledgeable guides, each eco event is open to everyone and a great way to get a hands-on experience learning about the native plants and animals in the area. All these events help people create a greater understanding of nature and why it’s important, and therefore cultivates a greater appreciation and respect for it as well.
Here are just a few of the eco activities you won’t want to miss during your visit to the Bradenton Area.
Canopy Zone at the NEST at Robinson Preserve
Built of boardwalks, rope bridges, climbing nets, and slides, Canopy Zone is like a mix between a playground, an obstacle course and a nature walk. Challenge yourself as you make your way through two stories of zigzagging platforms and walkways, pausing to get up close and personal with wading birds and other wildlife using the mounted binoculars. Located at the Mosaic Center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology (or NEST), Canopy Zone is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset and is fun for kids of all ages.
Nature Center Open House
Visit the nature center from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays to explore exhibits, make crafts, and learn more about the wildlife in the area.
Rent a kayak and join a guided paddle tour along one of the amazing kayaking routes, which stretch for miles and miles. Looking for a slice of Old Florida? Launch your kayak a little bit further inland and paddle the Manatee River, checking out the freshwater habitats along the way. You might even see some of our local birds and turtles!
Join educator Elena for a shell walk at Coquina Beach. These monthly guided walks are a great way to get out and learn about the actual creatures that create those shells and the different species of mollusks that live offshore.
There are so many places to indulge a passion for birdwatching here, and our brochure outlines them all. Not an experienced Birder? No worries. Join one of our guided tours and learn more about the many species of birds you’ll see in the Bradenton Area.