Conservatory Park lies just north of University Parkway, which is actually Manatee County, but it might as well be Sarasota, or the sprawl of Sarasota.
It certainly is hidden. To reach the park, you have to wind your way through neighborhoods south of the Palm-Aire Country Club. There aren’t many parking spaces, so it’s not like a bunch of people could gather in the 55-acre woods, anyway.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
One entrance to the park is off Palm Aire Boulevard and thenConservatory Drive. The other entrance is off Whitfield Avenue, Timber Lake Drive and then DeSoto Woods Drive.
On that route, you feel like you’ve made a wrong turn right up until you reach the stone entrance to the place.
That’s where I ran into Ashley Pressimone, a pregnant mom who was pushing her 4- and 2-year-old daughters in a stroller. They live just down the street. While her husband jogged around the park’s loop trail, the girls enjoyed a shady neighborhood stroll.
“It’s a good little park, a nice walking park,” Pressimone said. “We’ll be really excited when they finally put the playground in.”
Conservatory Park opened in October. It is open from dawn to dusk. It has a picnic pavilion with restrooms. There is a nature trail and paved loop trail that curves past the observation deck on a 10-acre lake.
Tall pines and broad oaks shade most of the park, which tends to be dark and quiet. Dog walkers follow their pets down paths.
Couples walk hand in hand. Parents and kids explore the woods along the trails.
Manatee County used grant money to help buy park land for $3.4 million back in 2004. Another $1.5 million was spent developing the park.
In 2009, some neighborhood residents complained about the county installing black chain link fence behind homes next to the park.
You can see why residents might be upset. Some sidewalks that lead into the park bend around and in between homes near the woods. To an outsider, that seems like a small price to pay for proximity to a county-maintained nature preserve.
Tom and Janice
At Conservatory Park, I took a jog around the paved loop and into some of the surrounding neighborhoods. Pretty short, but pretty nice.
On my way out, I almost ran into Tom and Janice Falgiano, who just moved to Sarasota from Buffalo, N.Y. They leave in the Cedar Creek neighborhood that is 1.8 miles from Conservatory Park.
“I checked it on-line,” Janice said. “This is our first time here.”
The Falgianos are always looking for places to take their grandchildren. They like to take walks through Longwood Run and Benderson Park.
“This is prettier,” Janice said. “This is absolutely beautiful.”