Myakka Valley Ranches, located seven miles east of Interstate 75 just off Clark Road next to Myakka State Park, has a unique history. Before it was developed as an equestrian community in the late 1960s, it was a cattle ranch that belonged to the Vanderipes, one of the area’s early pioneer families, whose descendants still live in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
James and Nancy Vanderipe came from Kentucky and settled on the Braden River in Manatee County in the 1840s. Their son, Capt. William Vanderipe, a Confederate soldier and Manatee County’s first postmaster, was a “true grit” kind of guy. Once after a storm, on his way to a county commissioner’s meeting, he came upon a washed-out bridge. Undaunted, he swam across the alligator-infested river and walked the rest of the way. He also was a real estate investor and one of the largest cattle owners in the area, with big herds along the Braden and Myakka rivers.
One of his sons, Henry, and his wife, Martha, lived on the Myakka ranch until it was sold in the 1950s. In those days, a railway line connecting Sarasota and Arcadia ran past the homestead — there are still some properties where one can see the remnants of the rail embankments. The story goes that Martha would give her grocery list to someone on the train, and on its return trip, the groceries would be delivered to her.
Today, all that’s left of the original homestead is the chimney, which can been seen from Howard Creek Road. A nearby saddle trails offers a closer look.
When Myakka Valley Ranches was developed, it was touted as a getaway for city folk from the hustle and bustle of Sarasota, a place where they could build their cabins and ride their horses. All of the 280 or so home sites are platted at a minimum of 5 acres, some of them bigger. Regulations are lenient regarding the number of outbuildings, so many have barns and other stand-alone structures besides the homes.
Paul Wolbers, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, has lived in Myakka Valley Ranches for 22 years and sold a number of properties there. Currently, he has three listings. “It’s a very friendly, active neighborhood,” he says.
Low traffic on the roads makes for a perfect setting for walking, jogging and bike riding. There is a 17-mile network of saddle trails that runs behind and between the properties, and also includes the easements on either side of the roads. “You can ride your horse without having to backtrack or repeat yourself,” says Wolbers.
Above all, the neighborhood is noted for its open spaces and natural beauty. Some live oaks are more than 100 years old, and abundant wildlife — deer, sandhill cranes, armadillos, fox, otter, bobcat and the occasional gators and boars — is part of the scene. A creek runs through the subdivision with a wide, natural littoral easement. The more than 1,500 acres include a 25-acre wetland and two lovely waterfront parks, including one with a kayak launch with direct access to Myakka State Park when the water is high.
Wolbers loves the spaciousness and sense of freedom and quietness, and the congenial, neighborly residents. Most of them live there year-around and run the gamut from retirees, some in their 70s and 80s, who like their privacy, to families whose young children and teens attend Lakeview Elementary, Sarasota Middle, Riverview High and other area schools. There are working professionals and a smattering of snowbirds.
Some residents cultivate vegetable gardens. A number keep horses, but have others animals as well — donkeys, goats and chickens. “At one point, someone even had a zebra!” Wolbers remembers.
There are book clubs, a saddle club with monthly speaker, and a women’s forum. The Myakka Valley Ranches Improvement Association (MVRIA), an active HOA, has a website and publishes a monthly newsletter, the Rails ’N’ Tales. Annual dues are $471.90 and mostly go to the upkeep of the private roads.
Amenities include, of course, Myakka State Park next door, with its miles of trails, two large lakes and a wild, scenic river. Clark Road provides easy access to Interstate 75 and grocery stores, banks, shops and restaurants.
“We’re not nearly as far away as people, think,” says Wolbers. “It takes me only half an hour to get to my office in downtown Sarasota.” He continues, with a smile, “With cable television, and county water and sewer services, we no longer feel like pioneers.”
In the past nine months, 14 properties have sold.
Currently, eight homes are on the market, ranging in price from $290,000 to $750,000, and three pending or active with contract.