On May 13 and 14, the City of Anna Maria is throwing a party to mark the 100-year birthday of the much-loved City Pier. As soon as the festivities are over, an extensive face-lift operation will transform the waterfront and pier entrance in a way that is intended to make the pier even more accessible and attractive to tourists than it is in its current simple state.
Such a marketing effort is in line with the origins of the pier, which was built in 1911 by the founding Bean family, in order to bring rich tourists to the new town of Anna Maria via steamer. The 776-foot-length of the pier was necessary to reach the deep waters needed by large boats.
In her book The Early Days 1893 – 1940, Carolyne Norwood, of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, explains that George Emerson Bean, his son Will, and their associates had formed the Anna Maria Beach Development Company. They had built 60 homes, a hotel, bathing pavilion, bathhouse, church, school, post office and several stores, in just a few years. Now they wanted to generate some business. After the pier was built, the whole family went to great lengths to entertain those who arrived by boat. Bean’s 10-year-old daughter cruised around the steamers in a little red boat, greeting visitors. Another family member dressed up and told fortunes. A gift shop was opened at the foot of the pier.
Anna Maria Island is enriched by the wide range of very different communities that surround it. Perhaps the most colorful and unusual of these is the working fishing village of Cortez, immediately across the bridge from Bradenton Beach, on the southwest side of Bradenton. Cortez is full of extremely picturesque cottages where real life still goes on. In many parts of the country, these kinds of communities have become sterile tourist attractions, and no longer authentic, but Cortez still works hard to maintain its traditions and meaningful activities, and the residents still work in the local fishing industry.
For these reasons, Cortez is always a wonderful place to visit, and to celebrate. But the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival is a time when the festivities are in full swing. This year, the Twenty Ninth Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival takes place on February 19 and 20.
Many islanders are breathing a sigh of relief after a recent computer model used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted only a very low probability of oil or tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon reaching Anna Maria Island.
NOAA’s computer model map identifies the probability of problems in various sections of the Gulf and Atlantic Coast. Not surprisingly, the eastern Louisiana coast, the entire Alabama coast and the western half of the Florida Panhandle coast are given the highest probability, from 81 to 100 per cent.
What is surprising, however, are the regions with the second-highest probability of being contaminated by oil and tar. Areas in this group have a 61 to 80 percent chance of this, and they include the south central Louisiana coast and a very small zone in the central coastal part of the Florida Panhandle. Then comes the big surprise for this 61 to 80 percent prediction area: another large zone that runs from the Florida Keys up around the entire southeast coast of the state.
Anna Maria Island sits right on the border between two probability zones. The “below 1 percent” zone runs south from here. The “1 to 20 percent” zone runs north, beyond Tampa, almost to the Panhandle. What welcomed news this is.
The oil from BP’s drilling disaster is still spewing almost 400 miles to the northwest of Anna Maria Island, but it still has not reached our beautiful white beaches. Our feeling of appreciation for these beaches has been heightened as we think the unthinkable: that our abundant wildlife and beautiful clear water and white sand beaches could be seriously harmed by the catastrophe that is doing so much harm to the environment north of us.
Signs that islanders cherish our special beaches are apparent as the holiday weekend approaches here. In particular, there is a new group in Anna Maria called NEMO (North End Merchants Organization), which is planning an extensive trash clean up on July 5, after the anticipated dumping of trash on the beaches by thoughtless visitors. Volunteers will meet at the Roser Community Church, at Ginny’s and Jane’s at the Old IGA, and at Crosspointe Fellowship Church at the south border of the city of Anna Maria. Each group will focus on a particular stretch of beach within Anna Maria.
In addition to this organized effort, there likely will be many individual volunteers who just naturally take it upon themselves to walk the beach with large garbage bags after the fourth, picking up the debris and litter. In past years, members of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch have been particularly generous in performing this task, not only after the holiday, but in the course of their activities through the entire sea turtle nesting season. Turtles and birds can be badly injured or die from ingesting plastic, or from becoming tangled in it.