In hopes of preserving several active red-cockaded woodpecker clusters, and protecting the water quality of East Bay, the state Tuesday agreed to buy 376 acres adjacent to 22-mile long Whiskey George Creek, one of the longest streams in the Tate’s Hell State Forest, from Apalachicola businessman George Mahr.
Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet agreed to pay $1.31 million, or roughly $3,484 per acre, for the property, which is bounded by Tate’s Hell State Forest on its northern and western boundaries and the meandering Whiskey George Creek along the eastern boundary with nearly two miles of water frontage that eventually flows into East Bay.
The land, which Mahr acquired in January 1994 for $263,708, consists of three parcels, which the Franklin County property appraiser’s office lists for tax purposes as about 225, 125 and 38 acres.
The property is within what the state calls the St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever project, a variety of parcels in several counties that total 160,945 acres, of which 104,335 acres have been acquired or are under agreement to be acquired.
The St. Joe Timberland project was created in 2000 to consolidate St. Joe Company ownerships in other Florida Forever Projects, into one project, helping to preserve large undeveloped tracts of land for native plants and animals and giving the public an opportunity to experience large natural areas throughout north Florida.
The property features well-maintained planted pine along with a diverse wildlife habitat, including several active red cockaded woodpecker clusters.
“Historically, Whiskey George Creek has functioned as a catch basin for groundwater runoff coming from area wet savannas and basin swamps,” wrote the state in its analysis. “Today, much of the runoff that discharges into (the) creek passes through massive drainage ditches along the roads in its proximity. Protecting the water quality is essential, because this creek functions as a significant tributary to East Bay.”
In a news release Tuesday, Temperince Morgan, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Florida, lauded the move, which was one portion of a $56 million buy to acquire seven properties across the state that will be designated for conservation. The seven parcels total nearly 20,000 acres, more than 98 percent of which are within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a recently designated network of connected lands that are crucial for wildlife habitat.
The other parcels include 768 acres within the Wolfe Creek Florida Forever Project in Santa Rosa County; a conservation easement will cover 11,958 acres within the Horse Creek Ranch Florida Forever Project in DeSoto and Hardee counties’ conservation easements of 3,634 and 615 acres within the Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connector Florida Forever Project in Okeechobee County; a conservation easement of 1,882 acres within the Fisheating Creek Ecosystem Florida Forever Project in Highlands County; and a conservation easement covering 663 acres within the Lake Wales Ridge Florida Forever Project in Highlands County.
”Acquiring lands for conservation and recreation is a top priority for my administration,” said DeSantis. “Conservation of these key properties will forever benefit water quality, rare wildlife habitats and corridor linkages, as well as support Florida’s ever-growing economy.”
Acquiring the Tate’s Hell parcel, which will be managed by the Florida Forest Service, will allow for better management by eliminating an inholding within the forest and protection from future development. Nine homesites have been cleared, limestone roads have been established and culverts have been installed.
The state said the acquisition will increase the state forest’s ecological value and provide additional public access and recreational activities.