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Living on the Key

MANASOTA KEY A different sort of place…
There is no more peaceful, solitary pleasure on this barrier beach than walking the tide line in the early morning and seeing porpoises surfacing, herons pecking at the sand for cocinas, and willets, sanderlings, and pipers finding their breakfasts, while somehow keeping their feet dry.
Welcome to Manasota Key.
This beautiful barrier island on which you have chosen to live was once a part of the African continent, and has been in the process of achieving its current size and shape for about 15,000 years. In its current configuration the Island has supported human and habitation for perhaps as long as 2000 years. Shell middens and human skeletons uncovered during site construction near Middle Beach in 1989 indicate a fair sized settlement of the Caloosa tribe of “Native Americans” living on the island or along the mainland shore around 150 AD.
Modern man’s approach to living on the Key has been far from uniform. For an immediate lesson in the different approaches he has taken, you only have to cross over to the Key by way of the south bridge. On rounding the bend, you will be confronted by what is sadly an almost universal approach to the Florida shore – a mile and a half of broad boulevard complete with turning lanes and pedestrian paths edged by commercial establishments, condominiums, and tidy trailer parks – all prominently advertised by signs of all shapes and sizes. At the end of this stretch a small sign informs you that you are leaving Charlotte County and are entering Sarasota County, and a “Conservation District.” The road becomes a two lane narrow and winding stretch of asphalt lined by live oaks, banyans, sea grapes, and Sabal palms which, for short stretches, form canopies over the road. Although a few houses and concrete walls are visible, most residents prefer to be surrounded by natural vegetation and to allow nature to be in control. For the most part, you share the road with bicyclists and joggers, and in a wink you are traveling through one of the least populated and most carefully controlled sections of the southwest coast of Florida.
The "Conservation District" which you are now enjoying was created by members of the Manasota Key Association (MKA)in 1971, working with the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners and later with the Florida State Legislature, resulting in Florida State Law, Chapter 71-904. The provisions of this law, which has twice been successfully defended against developers before the Florida Supreme Court, are contained in the MKA's Directory, which is published annually and is yours when you join the Association.
Sharing in this commitment to conservation are the members of the North Manasota Key Association whose properties lie to the north of the Manasota Beach opposite the north bridge to the island. Although the associations are governed by separate boards and officers, they have a common purpose which is the preservation of the natural beauty of the Key and the support of all laws and ordinances governing this preservation.
Living on the Key – A partnership with nature.
The policies governing land use within the Conservation District are quite straight forward. Simply put, all properties situated within the District are to consist of single- family homes and guest houses, which conform to tile pertinent zoning and building ordinances of Sarasota County and with State Law 71·904. All new buildings and/or additions to existing buildings must be approved by the relevant state and county staffs, and be officially sanctioned by the Commissioners at a Public Hearing. Any and all modifications to structures and natural land features forward of the State and the County coastal setback lines (they differ) require variances and approval by both the State and the County. Be forewarned, permitting can be a time consuming and costly process.
What are the benefits -- besides those of privacy and a view -- that you derive from this control?
To begin with you will enjoy an almost empty seven-mile stretch of beach. You will benefit from the mile-long stretch of in-shore "hard bottom" (reef) that is a one-of-a-kind along this coast of Florida. This reef in turn yields shore side fishing opportunities that are truly unbelievable. You will be neighbors with, and stewards of hundreds of species of native birds as well as the migrants on their way north in the late winter. You will encounter foxes, armadillos, raccoons, and gopher tortoises in your yards, and you may even have a visiting heron who drops in while you are fishing or having dinner on your patio.
During turtle season (May through October) you will participate in a natural ritual that has been going on here for hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of years. And, you will share your swim with a pod of dolphins that has graced our shores for at least twenty-five years.
To learn more about your new home.
To help you get acquainted with the dynamics of living by the sea, there are several excellent and readable books on the subject. The first and most applicable to Manasota Key is "Living on the Edge of the Gulf, one of a series of books edited by the "grandfather" of coastal studies, Dr Orrin Pllkey Sr. The book describes how the beaches from Alabama to Key West were formed, discusses Manasota Key in detail, and provides a carefully ranked series of options to be used in dealing with the natural forces at work along our beachfront.
A second book is "Against the Tide" by Cornelia Dean, a science editor for the New York Times. Its scope Is more general than the Pilkey book, tracing the effects of man's "engineering" of the shores of the United States. However, while its coverage is broad, its message Is well distilled.
A third book, "Saving our Beaches" by Scott Douglas Is written for the layman in clear and simple terms, and benefits from profuse illustrations. Its exclusive focus on beach "renourlshment" serves as the book's only drawback. All in all though, Professor Douglas's work is a very useful primer in learning the ways of wind, water, and sand.
In addition to these books, upon joining the MKA you will have access to the Association's "officlal" history In the form of reminiscences of an early 20'h century visitor and resident, Dr Walter Roberts; as well as later reminiscences by numerous residents who have lived on the Key for varying periods of time, It is a very useful tool in gaining an understanding of the convictions and practices that produced and now support the Conservation District.
In addition to Its history, the Association provides new members with access to a pamphlet entitled "A Horticultural Guide to Manasota Key," Its pages are crammed with useful advice and facts concerning the native plants on the is/and, It is a must-read for all who would garden successfully on the Key.
So, again, welcome to Manasota Key - You have made a good investment in a piece of land that has been here since 150 AD…. and who knows, with proper care, may last another 2000 years.
(This tribute to Manasota Key was written by David and Nan Winans, long time residents of the key.  No portion of this document may be reproduced without the authorization of the Manasota Key Association.)