This is a wonderful little park with a variety of plant species and many opportunities to see birds.
Joan M. Durante Park, located at 5550 Gulf of Mexico Drive, is the result of a private/public partnership to enhance and restore one of the few remaining vacant island properties on Longboat Key to a viable wetland and coastal hammock forest.
The 32 acre site is located on Sarasota Bay two miles from the north end of Longboat Key. The site had previously been developed with cabins, these had been demolished and invasive exotic vegetation had taken over the site by the time the Town acquired it in the late eighties.
A private donor, James Durante came to the Town in 1994 and offered $750,000 to develop a park and restore the property in honor of his late wife. The first phase of the Park was completed in 1995. Great care was taken to protect the native vegetation and desirable trees on the site, such as Live Oaks, Red Cedar, Sabal Palms, Banyon, Mango, Green Buttonwood, Mahoe and Mangroves. This was done while most of the invasive exotic vegetation such as Australian Pine and Brazilian Peppers were removed. These species had taken over large sections of the site.
The Town was awarded a $195,000 grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to create wetland and coastal hammock forest in the areas cleared of invasive exotic vegetation. Additional funds and materials were donated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Mangroves were planted in the wetland areas and Live Oak, Red Cedar, Wax Myrtle, Green Buttonwood, Sabal Palmetto, Seagrape, and Gumbo Limbo were planted in the upland areas to restore the coastal hammock forest. A variety of understory species were also planted to stabilize and enhance the new coastal dune and wetland areas.
The dune areas were created using the fill taken from the newly created wetland areas. To save cost, the invasive exotic vegetation was either chipped on site or buried within the new dune systems. The chips were used in the open areas which helped stabilize it while native grasses were established.
The wetland and coastal dune forest represents a major public/private success story, with participation from local, State and Federal governmental agencies and a private donor. The park has also won a number of awards, including the “1998 Outstanding Ecosystem Restoration Award” from the Florida Urban Forestry Council, the “Public Landscape Award” from the Keep Manatee Beautiful organization, and the “Image Manatee Beautification Award” from the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce. The park represents a unique oasis for both wildlife and man in an urbanized area