In November of 2014, Florida voters overwhelmingly said “Yes” to a constitutional amendment that would provide dedicated funding to conserve critical lands and protect our water resources. If you were wondering what that has to do with an entertainment magazine, then you should probably learn more about the priority list of 119 properties sprinkled throughout the state that need more funding, with more than half in north Florida. This “wish list” is developed by Florida’s Acquisition and Restoration Council, the ARC, which evaluates and ranks state land acquisitions based on more than 40 different attributes. Having a wide variety of conservation lands within the state is crucial to attract tourism as well as protect Florida’s future as a diverse ecosystem.
Here is what we could be seeing here in North Florida soon:
Baldwin Bay & St. Mary’s River
(Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail expansion)
Old growth forests are increasingly rare in Florida. While we have lots of managed forests and even more tree farms, having an intact old growth forest has benefits beyond what this article can cover. Even more important, this stretch of forest would connect Cary State Forest and Jennings State Forest, providing a wildlife corridor currently threatened by fragmentation. If air quality, water quality, biodiversity and wildlife benefits aren’t enough, then this stretch of land would also connect to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail and increase recreational opportunities, including cycling, horseback riding, and hunting in some areas. To date, none of the 9,500 acres in this corridor have been protected.
Northeast Florida Blueway
(St. Augustine and surrounding area tourism)
The Northeast Florida Blueway would protect wetlands and marshes along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Tolomato and Matanzas rivers, and some of our most important historical sites. This tract is essentially the unprotected parcels of property in between the Castillo de San Marcos and Ft. Matanzas, Anastasia Island State Park, Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve, Guana River Marsh, Deep Creek State Forest, Mickler Landing, North Shores Park, Surf Side Park, Vilano Beach Fishing Pier, the Fountain of Youth, and Lighthouse Park and Museum, plus much more. This area is rich in historical and archaeological resources because of the Native American and European inhabitants spanning over centuries. The acquisition and protection of the remaining uplands will help ensure this area continues to provide a quality outdoor experience for residents and tourists, retaining the character of the area as well as enhance boating, canoeing, kayaking, birding, hiking, fishing and historical/archaeological interpretative education. Nearly 50% of these properties have not been protected.
Pumpkin Hill Creek
(Oyster beds and clean water)Pumpkin Hill Creek is a remnant of a relatively intact natural community within urban Duval County. This project would protect an upland buffer to the Nassau River and the St. Johns River Marsh Aquatic Preserve, which is the land supporting almost all of our commercial fisheries. City leaders just announced bacteria levels in some of the smaller creeks in this region now meet state standards for Oyster harvesting. Oysters, which filter huge amounts of water every day, cannot survive in poor water quality. In order to open these fisheries back up, we must protect the land that directly feeds and filters it. The salt marsh and sandhills in this area provide habitat for several rare species like wood storks, gopher tortoises, and manatees. It also contains two colonial wading bird rookeries. Fourteen archaeological sites are known from the project, including the ruins of the early 19th century Fitzpatrick Plantation house. This area is currently threatened by urban development. More than 40% of the Pumpkin Hill Creek area has yet to be protected.
The truth is that key conservation initiatives like those listed here and many others are less than halfway completed. Many projects have been waiting for more than a decade for funding to continue the work of preservation and recreation that benefit our fisherman, children, tourists and communities, as well. Sensitive lands have been developed in the meantime, and vital wildlife corridors have been lost. Voters approved Amendment 1 to ensure funding for these conservation lands, allowing us to complete the job. Unfortunately, our elected leadership recently refused to listen to voters, deciding to use Amendment 1 funds for already existing administrative environmental requirements instead of for land conservation and the expanded recreational opportunities that would result. Know what is at stake here, and fight for what you want to see happen in our community.