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Myakka River State Park

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith, former County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center (Steinmetz Collection)

Sarasota History - Myakka River State Park photo

During the late teens and into the 1920s, A.B. Edwards, one of Sarasota's prominent residents and first mayor of the city, began a movement in the region to set aside a natural area. With the help of the four members of the Sarasota Fresh Water Fish and Game Protection Association, Edwards approached the Florida board of trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund with the idea.

In 1934, the state had already foreclosed on more than 6,000 acres in the Myakka lower lake region. Edwards persuaded the IIF to purchase more than 17,000 acres, at 37 1/2 cents an acre, from the A.C. Honore Palmer Estate. Within weeks of the purchase, Honore and Potter Palmer donated more than 1,900 acres to the state in memory of their mother Bertha Palmer.

To make this area of more than 26,000 acres useable, the Civilian Conservation Corps was brought in. The CCC was one of many federal relief agencies that were established in the 1930s Depression as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program.

Under the direction of C.H. Schaeffer, acting director of park services, the CCC began the task of building roads, bridges and cabins, digging drainage ditches and cutting trees and underbrush. In the photo, one of the CCC crews is constructing a bridge. The photo is from the Walter R. and Margaret McWorter Collection.

Temporary huts were set up as the crews began building the permanent structures. Everything that was being constructed was built with native materials and made to blend in with the natural surroundings. The sides of the buildings were made of palmetto logs, shingles were cut from blocks of cypress and fireplaces were built of stone from Manatee County. Irrigation ditches were dug to water the new hammock plantings. More than 100,000 tree seedlings arrived in 1935 and were planted. In one day, a crew of 51 planted 9,900 trees.

For many of the CCC crews, Myakka River State Park provided employment, health care and a sense of purpose for the young men. Crews had to be 18 to 25, physically fit and be recommended by one of the national relief agents. From 1934 to 1941, the crew population was between 140 and 210.

For most of these men, being on a CCC crew meant regular meals, medical exams twice a month and an eight-hours-a-day, five-day work week. For some, after-hour time was spent in the educational hall where math, bookkeeping and a number of grade-school subjects were taught.

There was also a recreation hall where there were billiards, a piano and a canteen. Boxing and wrestling were so popular that the American Legion Arena held Monday night matches in Sarasota. Of course there was always swimming, fishing and hiking right at the park.

On February 18, 1941 Myakka River State Park was officially dedicated. The park opened to the public June 1, 1942. Thanks to the CCC crews, Myakka River State Park continues to be a popular attraction for local and out-of-state visitors.

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