In her will, Elsa Scherer Burrows (1884-1955) left the family's 460-acre South Creek Ranch to the state in memory of her father Oscar Scherer, who invented a process for dyeing leather in 1872. Oscar Scherer State Park opened to the public in 1956. Three decades later, realtor and environmentalist, Jon Thaxton began campaigning for the state to purchase and protect adjoining Florida scrub-jay territory. With help from The Nature Conservancy, Sarasota County and wide public support, the state purchased an additional 922 acres from the adjacent Palmer Ranch in 1991. The park now preserves more than two square miles of natural land.
Oscar Scherer State Park was the first attempt by the state of Florida to contract with private enterprise to develop a park with a potential for revenue. After seeing the removal of many natural areas, the citizens of the community wanted something else and something less. Mrs. Elsa Scherer Burrows, daughter of the site¿s namesake, willed the land to the people for a park, not a large development. The state agreed. Public protest led to the removal of the contractor and the park service assumed the responsibility and completion of the structures in a more scaled-down construction. The park¿s visitor support facilities were complete by 1972 and are much the same today - a blend of preservation and recreation. This was a monumental step in the protection of the last viable acreage of scrub in Sarasota County - rescued from the bulldozers and saved for the scrub jays.
South Creek begins east of I-75 and flows through developments, the park and into the Intracoastal Waterway. It is tidal in the lower reaches and either flooded or almost dry in the upper basin, depending on the season. It is a brackish stream ¿ a mix of fresh and salt waters. It is also a mix of temperate and tropical climates. Besides providing habitat for aquatic species, it is an important passageway and wildlife corridor for migrating animals. Alterations like the building of ditches, construction along the banks and the influx of cattle manure and lawn fertilizers have changed the creek drastically over the years. The water quality and the amount of flow has decreased due to upstream changes. Since the park cannot control outside alterations before the creek gets to the park, it is important that the park have a good relationship with others on the creek and demonstrate effective resource management. This, in turn, helps to educate and influence others to be more proactive in preserving water quality.
South Creek flows under this footbridge. At one time, it was the only way to cross the stream. The little dam below was constructed during the days of South Creek Ranch - as Mrs. Burrows called it - to hold back fresh water for the cattle. Across the bridge is the Lake Osprey Picnic Area and Concession Stand. Here, people bought food for themselves and to feed the wildlife, as well as miscellaneous camping items and souvenirs. In the early days, the scrub jays were plentiful and could be hand fed. Today, people refrain from feeding wildlife, and instead, come to see them in a more natural habitat. The concession building was converted into a Nature Center in 2002. Extensive use of resource management carried out by numerous park managers over the years resulted in many changes. Displays, exhibits and programs provide insight into the scrub hidden in Oscar Scherer State Park.
Some of the trails at Oscar Scherer began as cattle paths. Before the state gained ownership of this land, the park was a private ranch. Not only were cattle raised here, orange growing, truck farming and even mining took place on these grounds. There are still signs of these activities as you walk about. Even before the land was farmed and ranched, pre-Columbian cultures native to Florida hunted and gathered here. Nearby Spanish Point was home to hundreds of native peoples for thousands of years. They subsisted on shellfish, fruits, roots, berries and game. Shell scatter sites mark the remains of their 'seafood dinners.'
Looking back over 75 years of park history, there are a lot of changes in lots of places. Progress is a part of everyday life in state parks, especially at Oscar Scherer. Hard work ensures visitor experiences and resource management practices are the best that they can be. This would not be possible without the help of the Citizen Support Organization, the Friends of Oscar Scherer Park, Inc. These volunteers have lended their aid to many projects, including the building of one of Florida's first accessible trails, the Lester Finley Barrier Free Trail. Volunteers make it possible to maintain the park, and, with their continued help, the park can provide recreation and resource protection for many years to come.