Friday, September 5, 2008

Jungle Gardens Saved & New Venice Park

The rescued animals and tropical plants at Sarasota's Jungle Gardens will have a safe home, and Venice a new park, after state money was approved Thursday for both local conservation projects.

The Sarasota Conservation Foundation secured $6.7 million to buy a conservation easement for the 10-acre Jungle Gardens site, ensuring that the 68-year-old attraction will remain a zoological and botanical garden.

The city of Venice will receive $3.7 million for a new 10-acre waterfront park near the historic Venice Train Depot site.

The two projects had to qualify as natural, cultural, historic or recreational "jewels" to receive Florida Communities Trust grants, funded through the $300 million annual Florida Forever program that state legislators reauthorized this year.

Both projects made the cut despite fierce competition. The state had $73 million to dole out and applications for $263 million in grants from 84 communities. In the end, 18 projects received funding for 2008. "They had to be pretty special," said Doug Hattaway, who helps communities secure grants as the senior project manager for the Trust for Public Lands conservation group.
Sarasota County, he added, "was well represented."

Albert Joerger, president of the Conservation Foundation, said Sarasota County community leaders traveled to Tallahassee to make the case for Jungle Gardens as a historic treasure.
"This is a great day for Sarasota," Joerger said. "Jungle Gardens is exemplary of old Florida. They're not making any more of these."

According to Jungle Gardens' Web site, it is one of the oldest continuously operated attractions in the state, and dates back to 1940 when tourists arrived by car and roadside attractions were popular.

Joerger said a private donor has agreed to contribute part of the required local matching funds to purchase the easement from a family trust. But Joerger is still looking for private and possibly public financial support for the roughly $9 million purchase.

By Zac Anderson
Published: Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:00 a.m. Last Modified: Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:20 a.m.

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