64 acres along Manatee River permanently conserved

Crooked River Ranch owners sell land to Manatee County for $11.2 million

This is a view of part of Crooked River Ranch. Photo by Mary Lundeberg for the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

The Crooked River Ranch, comprising 64 acres along the Manatee River in Manatee County, will be protected forever from development, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which is based in Osprey, announced on Feb. 20.

The property earned its name because of “the river’s crooked shoreline” along the parcel’s southern border, a Foundation news release explains.

The land is located halfway between Interstate 75 and Fort Hamer Road in the growing community of Parrish, the release adds. Representatives of the Conservation Foundation worked with “the conservation-minded Hunter family,” and Manatee County leaders, to achieve the conservation of the property, the release points out.

“We are deeply thankful to the William A. and Janet K. Hunter Family Trust for their decision to protect this special place for the benefit of people and nature,” said Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation, in the release. “We are also delighted to have once again partnered with Manatee County to conserve Southwest Florida’s critical natural areas for the benefit of all.”

The Conservation Foundation represented the Hunter family throughout the process, bringing the proposed transaction to Manatee County leaders in early 2023, the release points out. “As one of the last remaining, large, privately-owned parcels along the Manatee River,” Crooked River Ranch “provides opportunities for coastal resiliency, water quality protection, and native habitat restoration,” the Foundation release explains. “Conserving this waterfront land helps safeguard imperiled species such as the West Indian Manatee, Eastern Black Rail, Piping Plover, Smalltooth Sawfish, and American Bald Eagle,” the release adds.

On Feb. 12, Manatee County formally purchased Crooked River Ranch, marking the first acquisition with money made available from the 2020 Conservation and Parks Projects Referendum Fund, the release says. In 2020, the Conservation Foundation partnered with The Trust for Public Land and the Manatee Fish and Game Association “to advocate in support of this referendum, which provides dedicated funding for water quality protection, natural areas preservation, and park creation/management,” the release notes.

The contract for the purchase, which the Manatee County commissioners approved on Dec. 12, 203, called for the county to pay $11.2 million for the land. Materials provided to the board members for their regular meeting that day said that the “property includes 22 acres of pasture (with a few cattle), 31 acres of forested upland (oak hammock with grazed understory), and 8 acres of wetland (saltmarsh, salt flat, mangrove). The natural resources have been well-managed and very few exotic species are present. Creeks and wetlands that crisscross the property have been ditched yet retain their natural flora and beauty. The site is surrounded by suburban residential and commercial development and has a history of crops, ranching, hunting and railway(s).”

This graphic shows the location of Crooked River Ranch. Image courtesy Manatee County

“This is a huge win for our citizens, our county, and the environment,” Manatee County Commissioner James Satcher, who represents District 1, said of the land sale in the release. “This was an overwhelming decision by the voters in 2020 for this purpose.”

“The quality and uniqueness of Crooked River Ranch” make it perfect for natural and public recreational opportunities, the release points out. In the future, Manatee County staff plans to allow the public to pursue a variety of activities on the site, including hiking, birding, paddling, and camping, the release adds.

The Conservation Foundation and Manatee County previously partnered on the protection of two other public-access waterfront properties, the release notes: the 150-acre Robinson Preserve addition and the 44-acre Johnson Preserve on the Braden River.