by anna rabhan
Would you be impressed if your city increased the size of its recreational area by more than five times – in one shot? That’s exactly what Atlantic Beach has done with the addition of River Branch Preserve to the Atlantic Beach Parks Department.
What makes it even more impressive is the incredible amount of time, effort and participation involved in achieving this civic feat. Discussions for purchase of the Buckman-Pritchard Trust lands that have become River Branch Preserve began in 2001. Six years later, a grant fell through and the city came up short on the million-dollar price tag. Purchase of the property was then made possible by donations from the River Branch Foundation (Johnson & Johnson heiress and J. Johnson Gallery owner Jennifer Johnson Duke’s organization) and the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute (www.publictrustlaw.org). Proceeds from fundraisers, along with gifts from private donors such as former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Sylvia Simmons, were also needed to complete the purchase. Even the site assessment was donated by Heilman & Associates. Warren K. Anderson Jr., President of Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute declares that “all of these efforts were essential to preserve this spectacular property for future generations to enjoy.”
Marsh Fest, one of the fundraisers that contributed to the park, is a production of the Marsh Preservation Society, which donates all proceeds to coastal and parks projects such as River Branch Preserve. The festival offers nature and kayak tours, food, musical entertainment and more, plus the chance to make your donation. The Marsh Preservation Society is planning another Marsh Fest, probably in November, to celebrate the acquisition of the new park land and to raise funds for infrastructure projects, such as a dock and canoe launch. If you’d like to know more about the Society, contact Executive Director Maria Mark at 707-3584.
The North Florida Land Trust managed to secure a conservation easement on the Buckman-Pritchard property, so that it will never be a target of development. These areas need to be protected, and for good reason. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wetlands biologist Tom Dahl, Florida has lost at least 45% of its wetland acreage – land that filters contaminants, such as industrial waste and stormwater runoff containing oil and pesticides, preventing those contaminants from leeching into the groundwater we eventually drink. Wetlands also have an amazing ability to retain storm and floodwaters, thus protecting the surrounding area from flooding. The Land Trust now serves seven counties and so far has helped protect almost 1,000 acres in Northeast Florida. It relies on contributions from supporters who can get more information at www.northfloridalandtrust.org.
As a result of tremendous community effort, Atlantic Beach, which previously had 65 acres of parks, now includes over 400 acres. The new park land offers canoeing and kayaking opportunities, with hiking, fishing, and camping available at adjacent Tide Views Preserve and Dutton Island Preserve. In fact, the three properties were already connected by a canoe trail, which is well-marked and may be extended in the future.
Atlantic Beach’s Assistant City Manager, David Thompson, says that while the new area must currently be accessed through either Tide Views Preserve or Dutton Island Preserve, “long term we would like to add some access along that side of the Intracoastal Waterway so that people would be able to go straight to the marshes or the water access to put in kayaks or canoes.” The district commissioner has approved the concept and the city submitted it to the state for approval on Saturday, June 20.
The City Manager’s office is also concentrating on extending the boardwalk from Tide Views out into the water. “At low tide reaching the docks and amenities is very difficult,” says Thompson. “We’re proposing to run a dock attaching to the existing boardwalks out to the deeper water so there would be access at low tide, high tide and all the time. You’d be able to fish off of it and there would be a canoe launch.”
Many former and current Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville officials, as well as dozens of volunteers, finally saw their dreams realized and their hard work pay off at a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 8. Atlantic Beach Mayor John Meserve said, “The acquisition of the Buckman-Pritchard Trust land on the Intracoastal Waterway is a significant acquisition for increasing conservation land in Atlantic Beach. Those 350 acres of marshlands will protect the environment and provide a ‘marsh experience’ for those in canoes and other shallow watercraft.”
So what do visitors to the area of the new park think? Jimmy, a Jacksonville resident, says, “Well, I didn’t know about all that [went into its creation] but it’s a real nice park. I’m surprised how quiet it is here so close to Atlantic [Boulevard] … I’ll probably come back to do some fishing and look at the birds. There’s a lot of [birds] here.” He’s certainly right about that! EU saw a couple of different kinds of woodpeckers, heard tons of different songbirds and saw a variety of water birds and even an owl!
The new land, River Branch Preserve, as well as Tide Views Preserve and Dutton Island Preserve are located along the Intracoastal Waterway between Dutton Drive and Begonia Street. Visit the Atlantic Beach website, www.coab.us, for directions and more information.
Protect yourself while enjoying Florida’s parks:
Due to the recent heavy rains, the mosquito population in Northeast Florida has exploded. A recent Department of Health press release states that, ?the mosquito population has erupted into huge swarms.
Community mosquito control units have been overwhelmed with requests for control measures, and anyone who has spent any time outside recently can tell you that it can be quite uncomfortable to go without protection these days. Mosquito bites can be painful and itchy, but they are also a serious health concern.
In fact, says the Department of Health, “These swarms carry the risk of potentially deadly diseases that can be passed to both humans and animals.” Such diseases include West Nile and encephalitis.
So does that mean you can’t get out and enjoy all that Florida has to offer this summer? Not at all, but you should take the following precautions recommended by state health officials:
Avoid being outdoors during ito feeding time (dusk and dawn).
Wear clothing that covers most of your skin (long pants and long-sleeve shirts).
Use insect repellents. State health officials recommend DEET-containing products, but try a good plant-based repellent first. If it works, you’ve protected yourself and avoided unnecessary exposure to a chemical. If not, you have the option.
Eliminate areas of standing water, which is where mosquitoes lay eggs. Check flowerpot drain pans, birdbaths, gutters, garbage cans and other items which may have collected water.
more park to play in for atlantic beach
by anna rabhan