Tucked away off the beaten path, you’ll find a piece of paradise in the form of a perfect little park
By John Morton
Two spring seasons ago, while visiting Siesta Key from Chicago, Allen Jahn discovered Glebe Park.
“It was during the pandemic, right at the start, and the island was empty. Heck, even the beaches were closed,” Jahn said. “We were looking for things to do, and we ended up here while biking.”
This year, he’s mighty happy he knows about the place.
“Boy, what a difference. We feel so much more safe riding our bikes back here, away from all the traffic,” Jahn said.
This time around, he brought his son, Tim Jahn, by bicycle to check it out.
“It’s my second time on Siesta Key and I had no idea this was here,” he said. “It’s so nice to be back here, going at your own pace, away from all that congestion.”
Added his father with a laugh, before they biked away, “Don’t tell anyone about it!”
Indeed, that is the common sentiment from those who have discovered the little hidden at the end of Glebe Lane, behind St. Michael the Archangel church, off of Midnight Pass Road shortly after the road veers inland. Just a few hundred yards away, massive crowds spring break are pouring into Siesta Beach to find some relaxation.
“I’ll take this instead of trying to walk the beach right now,” said Theresa Wright, visiting from upstate New York, as she exited Glebe Park’s nature trail. “You can tell this park is a well-kept secret. There’s what – only about 10 of us out here in the middle of a perfect day?”
Eddie Weeks knows that secret like few others, calling the park his second home. The former Siesta Key resident in many ways grew up here, as it was his father, Steve Weeks, who used to help keep the 10-acre parcel in decent shape after he, 25 years ago, brought the growing Suncoast Sports Club to the park as its home turf.
Now, Eddie is the incoming president of the club, replacing his father. The club is now large enough to rent out all the soccer fields every Saturday morning.
“This is considered a hidden gem because, for the locals, it is tucked away from the public eye,” Weeks said. “Thousands of visitors are attracted to Siesta Key each year, but most would not venture down a side street which dead ends.”
No roadside signage points to the park. Only at its entrance does a small Sarasota County sign welcome you.
“Many families host parties back here,” Weeks said. “Others work out, bird watch, run bare-foot on the soft grass — it gives an almost private, intimate experience for each individual because of its exclusiveness.
“And, with Siesta Key traffic, it offers busy mothers a safe place to push the stroller without having to constantly watch for traffic. It offers two restroom facilities and baby changing tables as well, and is monitored by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department.
“There is also a large charcoal grill that nobody has to fight over — unlike the grill situation at Siesta Beach.”
The park has come a long way. Originally belonging to the Sarasota County School District, it was swapped out and became county land, according to John McCarthy, who formerly managed the county’s parks division. Today, McCarthy is V.P and historian for the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ campus at Historic Spanish Point in Osprey.
It was in 2000, under McCarthy’s leadership, that the park began to take shape. Previously, it was in rough shape. And largely ignored.
“It’s not like other communities, where parks and athletic fields are needed to keep up with the population growth,” McCarthy said. “That’s not Siesta Key. The area wasn’t attractive, so it didn’t get much attention.”
But resident Steve Weeks was the exception.
“It was mostly just sand and weeds,” McCarthy said. “It was Steve Weeks who kept it mowed and clean. He’d be out there, picking up trash.”
The land even had an old well that needed to be capped off, McCarthy said.
Meanwhile, soil upgrades were needed. It eventually resulted in the lush grass you see there today.
Back to McCarthy’s initial involvement, he decided to engage in discussions with surrounding homeowners — and he listened. Their desire to maintain peace and tranquility were high on their list. As a result, some early suggestions to create the Key’s first dog park, or add desperately needed public tennis courts, were eliminated.
“While we wanted things that attracted people, we had to respect that buffer,” he said. “But we also didn’t want to eliminate athletic activity.”
So, youth soccer and baseball fields became focal points, providing large open spaces rich with greenery, as did a walking trail. A pavilion added a family atmosphere, ideal for picnics.
The number of basketball courts was limited to one.
“It was an early example of how public participation resulted in a better product,” McCarthy said. “The neighbors also wanted an attractive park, but with limits. This wasn’t the place to put up a merry-go-round.”
How did Glebe Park get its name? The word Glebe as an Old English word referring to a piece of land that supports clergy. However, it never did serve that role – officially – for St. Michael’s.
“That name is a default name, I believe,” McCarthy said. “That was the name of the little street that was already there, so it’s how people referred to the land. The common name became the formal name when it became a county park.”
That’s not to say the park doesn’t have a special relationship with the church.
“It is such a good neighbor,” said Fr. Michael Cannon, the church’s leader, said of the park. “Steve Weeks has always been wonderful to us. It’s a great relationship.”
For example, when a Saturday soccer tournament comes to Glebe, as many as 130 cars need parking. The church allows for overflow in its lot, he said.
Conversely, with the Key bustling this time of year, the church leans on the park to help with the influx of Sunday parishioners.
The beautiful setting also lends itself to many of the church’s activities, including family picnics. In fact, it will be holding its first Easter egg hunt in two years – cancelled due to the pandemic – on the park grounds.
“We are truly blessed to have it next door,” Cannon said.