by Jack Alexander
It always amazes me that one of Rotonda West’s greatest assets is overlooked and underused… Don Pedro Island.
Many Rotonda West residents seem unaware that a mid-1970’s investigation of Rotonda’s development by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) resulted in a consent decree that gave us legal “rights, in perpetuity” to use of a segments of Don Pedro’s Gulf-front beach, plus an easement to reach it from Lemon Bay’s intracoastal waterway, where there is now docking space for small boats.
For those unfamiliar with Don Pedro, it is the ecologically sensitive barrier island between Little Gasparilla Island and Knight Island, slightly southwest of Rotonda West, just beyond Cape Haze.
It is truly gorgeous, a broad, pristine beach, provided – originally by the developer, now by the state – with a wellmaintained shelter, picnic tables, cooking grilles, restroom, shower and drinking water facilities.
Whenever I am beset with family or other Northern visitors, I set aside a day for Don Pedro. We walk the clean sand, find shells, dunk in the warm Gulf, and generally thank God for this comfortably nearby part of Paradise.
The detailed account of the FTC investigation and its ultimate decree is in my book: “Rotonda, The Vision & The Reality,” the history of Rotonda’s sometimes rocky development. Also chronicled is the early use of Don Pedro by the developer for parties to promote Rotonda property sales, the early social aspects of Don Pedro Days, Fiesta Club activities on the beach, and the droves of early Rotondans who ferried there and back on the Roundabout, a free ferry run daily by its popular Captain, Arthur “Hap” Lasson. (The platoon boat, powered by twin outboards, was later renamed Cap’n Hap in Lasson’s memory.)
I also account in the book how Don Pedro was almost lost to us later, to be saved only by the efforts of the late Joe Tringali, among others. Today, instead of featuring unwelcome Gulffront condominiums, much of the island is a state park, thanks largely to Tringali, so we can enjoy its serenity to the fullest.
If we can get there. Unhappily, the free ferry is gone (which is another story in the book), but those with boats or friends with boats can readily access Don Pedro. Perhaps, someday, some authority will reestablish ferry service between island and mainland. (Ed. Note: ferry service is available to Don Pedro, but it is not free. Call 941-270-0132 for more information.)
Note: “Rotonda: The Vision & The Reality”, authored by Jack Alexander, copies are available for $6.00 at the Rotonda West Community Center, 3754 Cape Haze Drive, Rotonda West 33947, (941) 697-6788.