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Saturday afternoons offer a sneak peek at 21,000 acres of Duette Preserve

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duette preserve 2 karen fraleyThe Duette Preserve is so big — some 21,000 acres — that it’s hard to take a bite out of the darn thing.

So here’s my advice.

Before you set out to bike, hike or camp, take a drive out on a Saturday afternoon. That’s when Duette is open to cars and trucks, so you can check out all the trails and lakes, along with a new observation tower.
There’s a lot of room. There’s a lot to see. There’s a lot of quiet.
“You can truly get away from it all,” says Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department. “You can camp out there and there’ll be miles between you and anything else.”
It’s been years since I visited the Duette Preserve, but I just moved to Lakewood Ranch and I wanted a fresh look. So I cheated. I called Karen Fraley of Around the Bend Nature Tours, who leads spring and fall tours of the Duette Preserve.

Duette preserve karen fraleyStrawberry schools?
She was nice enough to drive me and my wife around in her old Honda Element, which is kind of like my dream car, if I was cool enough to have a dream car.
Fraley hasn’t been camping at Duette Preserve, but her daughter has, for her 16th birthday.
The preserve is open for primitive camping on Friday and Saturday nights, when it’s not a hunt weekend. Yes, there’s hunting at Duette on certain weekends. Support from hunters has been essential to land management in the preserve.
In 2005, a scrub restoration project began in Duette, which is one of the few places where the population of Florida scrub jays is actually growing. There are now 17 families of endangered jays in the preserve.

The cultural history of Duette includes several old homesteads. Fraley tells a great story about local farms and local schools. Years ago, farmers needed their children to help pick strawberries in the winter, so that’s when schools let out for vacation. This meant kids had class all summer in what were called strawberry schools.
How can I have lived in Florida more than 25 years and never heard about something that interesting? It’s one of many things to learn about and think about in the Duette Preserve.

 

Interested?
The Duette Preserve, 2649 Rails Road, is north of State Road 64 in Manatee County, 25 miles east of I-75. Open daily from 8 a.M. to sunset for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The preserve is open to vehicular traffic from 11:30 a.M. to 2:30 P.M. on Saturdays. For more information, call 776-2295 or visit mymanatee.org. Also aroundbend.com.
Last modified: June 19, 2014
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