By CARL MARIO NUDI
Manatee County residents are gearing up to celebrate the 38th annual Manatee Heritage Days during the whole month of March.
Twenty-three governmental agencies and historical organizations once again have put together a schedule of events to highlight the history of the county.
“People learn about American history in school, but rarely know about the things that happened in their own backyard,” said Cathy Slusser, director of the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court Historical Resources Department.
“We need the stories of the past to connect to our community,” Slusser said. “People need to know what and who came before them. It helps us to endure hard times, to learn from our mistakes and to enjoy our successes.”
The idea to celebrate Manatee County heritage started 37 years ago when a group of history-minded people, calling themselves the Manatee Heritage Association, got together and organized a week of events.
Over the years the clerk’s natural resources department has taken the lead in coordinating the countywide events, and the week of celebrations evolved into a month of activities about 25 years ago.
The events and programs take place all over the county, from Palmetto, Ellenton, and Parrish north of the Manatee River, to Anna Maria Island out west to Bennett Park in the east, and many places in between.
“We might not have produced presidents or inventors, but we had people who were doing extraordinary things with few resources,” Slusser said. “Our buildings might not be American treasures, but they are part of what makes our community unique.”
The Palmetto Historical Park, Manatee County Agricultural Museum, and Carnegie Historical Museum, 515 10th Ave. W., Palmetto, have a number of events planned, starting with an art exhibit opening reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 4, in the library basement.
The show, “Reflections of Nature: Our Privilege, Our Responsibility,” will feature the artwork and photography of four local artists, Mac Carraway, Carlos “Charlie” Ugarte, Garrett Harp and Mike Parrott.
“The focus of the art exhibit will be on nature,” said Diane Ingram, executive director of the agricultural museum.
The artwork, which will be on exhibit for nine weeks, will feature the natural Florida environment.
The Palmetto Heritage Festival, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, March 11, will be the usual crowd pleaser it has been for many years.
Carrying on the natural Florida theme, Manatee County Master Gardeners will be there to give a presentation on pollinators — the insects and animals that help pollinate plants.
The Yasko Beekeepers will have a demonstration beehive, the Humane Society will have pet adoptions, the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department and the Florida Division of Forestry will hand out informational materials.
A 53-foot semi-trailer traveling science center, the WaterVentures Learning Lab, will provide hands-on exhibits on natural watersheds, springs and coastal environments.
Parrot Cove Exotic Bird Preserve in Myakka City will have information on their mission of promoting a quality life for captive birds.
And along with other activities and tours, the Heritage Station Post Office will be open and the popular special one-day cancellation will be affixed to all outgoing mail.
The following Saturday, March 18, at 1 p.m., a Fly Tying Workshop will be held in the basement of the Carnegie Library. There is a $5 per person materials fee and reservations are required. Call 941-723-4991.
And to top off the month of events at the Palmetto Historical Park, a walking tour of Palmetto will begin at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 21, and Wednesday, March 22. The tours are free, but reservations are required. Call 941-756-5088.
“We frequently hear from visitors to the agricultural museum say, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and never knew this was here’,” said Ingram. “Manatee Heritage Days is an entire month dedicated to history and gives the smaller historical places a chance to shine.”
Amanda Polson, supervisor of the historical park, said Heritage Days helps in educating children about history.
“It’s important to let kids know how we got here,” Polson said. “They see what people did without electricity, and this helps them appreciate what they have now.”
To learn about the first inhabitants of the area, the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department will present the Native American Experience at Emerson Point Preserve, 5801 17th St. W, Palmetto, from 9 to 11 a.m., Saturday, March 25.
“Our educators will tell the story of the area’s earliest inhabitants,” said Melissa Nell, division manager, of the county parks and natural resources programming/education/volunteer division.
There will be tours of the Portavant Temple Mound, southwest Florida’s largest Native American temple mound, and the surrounding midden complex,” Nell said. “Also, we will demonstrate the tools they used that made it so they were able to survive and flourish in the Florida environment.”
In Ellenton, the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, 3708 Patten Ave., Ellenton on U.S. 301 (near the intersection of Ellenton-Gillette Road), will hold its 57th annual spring open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, March 5.
The Ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy will be wearing costumes from the period of 1840s to the 1870s. There will be music, crafts, demonstrations and fun activities, along with tours of the Civil War-era Gamble Mansion throughout the day.
Farther east in Parrish, the festivities kick off with a parade at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, March 4, with an all-day festival at the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum, 12210 83rd St. E., Parrish.
There is a $10 entry fee to the festival, where there will be rides, games, food and live music. There also will be a chili cook off contest with prizes.
The county parks and natural resources department will have several events at the Duette Preserve, 2649 Rawls Road, Parrish, and the Rye Preserve, 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish.
“These events are focusing on the historical aspects of the preserves and parks and not the natural environments,” Nell said.
During one of the events at the Duette Preserve, local Duette residents will tell stories about the area as visitors take a Pioneer Wagon Tour. The tours start at 8:30 a.m. through 12:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4. Reservations are needed. Call 941-794-8773.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, March 18, Aedan Stockdale, program manager for the county parks and natural resources department, will present a program at the Rye Preserve.
“Aedan, a pioneer chef, will cook food early-Florida homesteaders would have made,” Nell said. “Last year he made acorn flour biscuits, elderberry jam and other foods from native edible plants.”
She said Stockdale specializes in edible plants.
Stockdale will lead a walking tour to identify the edible plants, and participants will have a chance to sample the recipes he cooks. The event is free, but reservations are required. Call 941-748- 4501 ext. 6039.
“It’s important to acknowledge the partnership the county parks and natural resources department, the clerk of the court historical resources and all the other organizations have in presenting Manatee Heritage Days,” Nell said. “We want to encourage people to get out there and take advantage of these special programs.
“It’s a great way to discover and learn about Manatee County’s history,” she said.
There are plenty of other events north of the Manatee River all month, as well as a schedule full of activities throughout Manatee County, including the Manatee County Historical Society annual picnic at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, canning and papermaking demonstrations at The Folk School at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez and an ice cream social at the Samuel G. Curry Museum House in Old Manatee.
For a complete schedule and more information visit the website at www.manateeclerk.com.