A donation of 10 unspoiled acres on barrier island Thornton Key valued at more than $600,000 highlighted the wildly successful Toast to the Coast fundraiser Wednesday.
Gar & Dean Beckstead, long-time Lemon Bay Conservancy members and the developers of the Useppa Island Club and Palm Island resort, made the gift.
"It's a splendidly generous donation for permanent preservation: including the exceptional natural "Hidden Lake" area," said Jim Cooper, LBC president.
From left: Jett Thompson of Boca Grande, Mark Pritchett, Nelda Thompson, Veronica Brady and Boca Grande native J.B. Baldwin.
The Toast to the Coast basked in sunshine at the Lemon Bay Conservancy's Leap Year gala fundraiser Feb. 29 at the Gasparilla Inn Beach Club on Boca Grande until it was time to go inside and discuss the serious issues surrounding the tarpon fishery.
"It was our very best event yet and we were able to tell our community about the Conservancy's excellent accomplishment of paying down our $250,000 Wildflower Preserve mortgage in just one year," Cooper said.
Other accomplishments included improving trails and critter habitat at Wildflower, and a partnership project with biologist Aaron Adams at Mote Marine to improve juvenile tarpon habitat.
The Toast to the Coast festivities drew a far-flung crowd of 235 attendees from miles around, said Vanessa Smith, Lemon Bay Conservancy director of development.
"This represents a 30 percent increase in community folks caring about our protecting coastal lands and waters than last year," said Cooper.
Cooper estimated at least $25,000 had been raised by the event, in addition to the land donation, although exact figures will not be available after all expenses are paid.
After cocktail hour and a meal of beef brisket, LBC President Jim Cooper discussed tarpon preservation and pond system at the Conservancy's Wildflower Preserve, which provides an important link in tarpon growth.
Protecting and improving this environment is essential to promoting the tarpon population, Cooper said. Proceeds from the event benefit Lemon Bay Conservancy, which is working to study and preserve the declining tarpon fishery.
A silent auction, steel band music, a live auction with celebrity auctioneer Jimmy Dean and food stations created by the Gasparilla Inn's chefs enhanced the event.