Property rehabilitation, gardening improvements on tap at location adjacent to Legacy Trail

OSPREY — Melle Lee Warren and Emily Miller carefully trimmed dead stalks and fronds of an Areca palm tree Wednesday at the welcome center at the Osprey Junction Trailhead Park.

The volunteers are part of the Friends of the Osprey Junction Trailhead, a group that meets every Wednesday and works on cleaning up and rehabilitating what was once a single-family home at 939 E. Bay Street, at the intersection of Pine Ranch East Road.

“The goal is get rid of invasives and keep the native plants,” Miller said.

Between 10 and 15 volunteers show up each Wednesday to perform work on the 10-acre property that the county purchased for $2.8 million in 2008, as part of the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program.

The park, named in 2010, opened in 2013 as a nature walk. The eastern portion — which abuts the Legacy Trail — has a small parking lot and some shade structures and functions as one of seven trailheads along the trail.

Sarasota County will eventually build restrooms and other shade structures in that portion of the park.

More is envisioned for the western part, where three structures will be transformed into the welcome center, a maintenance building and greenhouse, and five gardens will be established.

Volunteers, at first affiliated with the Friends of the Legacy Trail, started caring for the property in 2015. In 2018, the Friends of the Osprey Junction Trailhead was founded.

The main house will offer a meeting room, rest area and vending machines and be staffed by volunteers as part of a partnership with Sarasota County.

“Our immediate project is to get this thing open, so people can visit here,” Chuck Butterfield, team leader for the Friends of the Osprey Junction said. “This has been closed to the public; it’s only been used at the parking lot on the other end.”

Even though the welcome center won’t be open, Butterfield and the rest of the Friends of the Osprey Junction Trailhead are preparing to host the SRQ Plein Air Painters on March 20, for the first of what is hoped to be may “Arts in the Park” programs produced by art curator Pamela Callender.

This event, which also features a picnic lunch, is only open to trailhead volunteers and Plein Air Painters.

Butterfield said the hope is to have art shows and other gatherings in the welcome center.

He’s hoping the welcome center will open sometime in June, but much of that is keyed to when ADA parking and an accessible restroom are built. Additions such as picnic tables, bicycle racks and public education programs will be added in phases.

Just as some volunteers handle yard work, others try their hand at interior renovation and painting.

The main living room, which abuts an open kitchen area, looks out on a backyard via a screened porch.

“This is really our pride and joy here,” Butterfield said, referring to a back porch that offers a view of one of two ponds on the property. “That yellow tape is where the butterfly garden is going to be. On the other side of the well pump is going to be a wildflower garden — there’s going to be gardens here.”

Five gardens are planned, many designed to promote Florida-friendly landscaping practices, native plants and wildflowers.

About half of the 14 volunteers present Wednesday are also part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ master gardener extension program.

“The master gardener’s partnership has really been good for us,” Butterfield said. “Most of these people here today are master gardeners, who have to put in so many hours a year.”

Just east of the Areca palm that Warren and Miller cleaned up, the gardeners are planning to cultivate a rain garden.

Muhly grass and bald cypress are two types of plants that meet that criteria, noted master gardener Elena Foster.

That area is perfect for a rain garden, Foster said, because it’s a swale, or dip in the landscape.

“The water runs off the house and all the chemicals and debris go into the swale — the roots of the plant purify the water and put it back into the aquifer, rather than put it into our waterways.

“Most of this is about making this place beautiful and a place where people can come and be more educated about the Florida environment,” she added. “But the other part of it — and it’s a very strong part of it as far as I’m concerned — is the comradeship that we all have.”