Sunday, February 8, 2015

Joan M. Durante Park

This was one of the very first places I visited when I first made my original fact-finding exploratory mission to Interzone way back in March 2008. This week I was pleased to make a slight return to reacquaint myself with its style.

In the early 1990s, the island of Longboat Key found itself stuck with a vast section of land that had formerly held a group of rental cabins but was now a neglected mess. The cabins were abandoned and in disrepair, and the swampy woods were almost completely taken over with invasive species, such as Australian Pine and Brazilian Peppers.

Longboat Key, if you're not aware, is a rather upscale, that is to say, snooty place and of course this eyesore just wouldn't do. Fortunately, in 1994, a private donor named James Durante popped up and offered $750,000 to help develop a park here and restore the property in honor of the memory of his late wife Joan.

And so it was that the Joan M. Durante Park was born. Wetlands were encouraged to form, and wooden walkways were installed over them. The natural flora - Live Oaks, Red Cedar, Sabal Palms, Banyon, Mango, Green Buttonwood, Mahoe, Mangroves, native grasses, etc. - were reinstated. Today it's one of Longboat Key's few great attractions that are free, open to the public and not for private snowbird use only.

They offer maps near the entrance, and I suggest you take one. Like nearby Leffis Key and its labyrinth of wilderness walkways, he park is just big enough to get lost in. Anticipating this (or perhaps in response to lost-visitor incidents), they have callboxes at strategic locations which are direct hotlines to the police.

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