Monday, October 22, 2012

Duette Preserve Wagon Tours available now

By Nick Williams

The 2012 fall season Duette Wagon Tour dates are set and reservations are being taken for tours on Saturday, Nov. 3, and Wednesday, Dec.

To understand the fun behind the tours, read this story printed back in April during the spring season:
Provided Photo

Merrie Lynn Parker’s love for Florida’s nature is evident.

A certified master naturalist, Parker can talk at length about the distinct habitats of the Duette Preserve, the largest preserve in Manatee County. She has studied the history of the preserve and befriended the descendants of the first families to settle on the land. On cue, she can list the many types of wildlife that call the 21,000-acre land home.

To Parker, Duette Preserve is a state treasure and should be treated as such.

“Most preserves have one type of habitat,” Parker said. “Duette has wetlands, big and small pockets of low lands, scrubs and prairie.”

For the past three years, Parker and her husband, Roy, under the umbrella of the Manatee-Sarasota Fish and Game Association, have teamed with the county’s Natural Resources Department to provide wagon tours of the preserve. The association puts on four tours each year, including its last tour of the spring season on Saturday.

The tours are by reservation only and are led by Duette Preserve rangers and naturalists. Parker said some descendants of the land’s pioneers also speak to the tours.

“It’s to get people out to see the preserve and appreciate the value of the preserve,” said Parker, the association’s secretary-treasurer. “It’s a great resource we have and it’s unique as far as its habitat.”

Parker said many of those who take the tours are visitors from out of state.

“They gain an appreciation for Florida in its natural state,” she said.

Located in the county’s northeast corner, Duette Preserve is almost entirely contained by the source of the Manatee River and the northeast area of the Lake Manatee watershed. The Manatee and Braden rivers serve as the principal sources of water supply for Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“Natural Florida habitat is different from what you’ll find in the Midwest or the Northeast and even the South,” Parker said. “It’s a different type of terrain.”

In the 1980s, the county purchased the land to maintain the watershed, Parker said. Since then, it has been the mission of naturalists and the county to improve its water quality.

“A healthy upland makes for healthier water,” she said.

The preserve offers biking and hiking trails, managed fishing and hunting and picnic areas. Its greatest benefit, Parker says, is educating the public about Florida’s environment.

“It’s here -- appreciate it and spend time here,” she said.

For more information about the tours, visit For reservations call 941-792-8314.

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