One of the many things that is fabulous about living in Southwest Florida is that if you want to get outside and exercise in the fresh air, there is ample opportunity to do so.

That’s why anytime I’m given the choice of going to a gym and getting on a treadmill or taking to the track, trail, street or park, I’m all for getting outside for my running and walking — weather permitting.

One of the nicest places in our area to do that is Nathan Benderson Park (NBP) in North Sarasota. It’s a unique community park, not only in that it encompasses 600 acres, but also in that it doubles as North America’s premier 2,000-meter sprint rowing course and Regatta Center. It’s a world class rowing center and recreational facility and began hosting regatta competitions in 2009. Today, it is the only course of its kind in the country.

For my purposes, though, the lake provides a lovely waterfront view while I run or bicycle around its three and a half-mile loop. I recently went to NBP on a lower humidity, cooler morning, and the numbers of people at the park reflected that pleasant weather.

There are two separate lots where you can park your car, both off of North Cattlemen Road, just south of the University Town Center mall. I parked in the southernmost lot, and immediately noticed that there were a couple of people fishing in the lake. I’m not even aware if there are fish in the manmade lake, but a sign told me that there were alligators, and I always pay attention to those signs.

I didn’t have my bicycle with me, and decided to walk the loop instead of run, since I was carrying a camera. It may have taken me a little longer, but that was okay, because I was able to fully enjoy the scenery all around me. Besides the fishermen/women at the park, there were also bicyclists, runners and scullers, so a lot of people were there exercising, too.

There are boat ramps at the lake, and you are welcome to launch your small, non-motor watercraft, rowboats and kayaks from them. When you get tired and are ready to rest, there are both shaded and non-shaded picnic areas. Plus, the park is pet-friendly, which means you can bring your furry friend, too, as long as he/she remains on a leash.

I decided next time I would be sure to bring a change of clothes. It’s really difficult for me to be that close to the University Town Center and not go there to at least get something to eat. And after all, that’s why I’m exercising in the first place.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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