Alachua County’s Land Conservation and Management Office plans to add a parking lot and additional trails to Four Creeks Preserve off NW 43rd Street, bringing the preserve to the same level of availability as the other public-access preserves.
Alachua County and the City of Gainesville share the preserve—both footing the $4.3 million price tag from 2018. The county used $2.8 million from the Wild Spaces Public Places surtax while the city spent $1.5 million from its tree mitigation fund.
Because of the county’s quick turnaround policy for public access, the preserve started with two walk-in entrances in 2019 but no parking lot, according to Andi Christman, director of the county’s Land Conservation and Management Office.
She said the plan always included a parking lot, and now the county is ready to begin.
At a public meeting on Wednesday, community members listened to a proposed Phase 2 for the preserve. The city and county would build a 20-30 space parking lot accessed from NW 43rd Street, across from the entrance to the Weschester subdivision at NW 82nd Boulevard.
Currently, the preserve lacks an entrance on that side. Two walk-in entrances are available off US 441 and through neighborhoods to the south at NW 37th Street.
Elisabeth Manley, owner of Manley Design, said the entrance would mirror that at the Turkey Creek Preserve—split rail fencing, gravel ground, kiosk and bench. The parking space would allow county-wide visitors instead of only residents within walking distance.
With the new entrance would come a new looped trail to connect to the current 2.5-mile, looped trail that spans the walk-in entrances.
Manley said the plan is to make the new trail as accessible as possible. The current trails at the preserve consist of mulch or gravel, and with wetlands making up one-third of the land, the conditions can roughen with the rainfall.
The new trail would total just under a mile, and the county hopes to add an overlook area as well during Phase 2.
Christman said the county considered adding the parking lot at the southern entrance, NW 37th Street, but the neighborhoods resisted the idea of increased traffic. Plus, the preserve area that borders NW 43rd Street is drier and will make for better conditions, according to Christman.
The area will also allow for a possible Phase 3 that could include a bus loop for school field trips and even a restroom.
Christman said none of the county’s preserves contain restrooms. Alachua County, she said, maintains a carry-in and take-it-out approach. However, because of the split ownership of the preserve, the county and city could install a restroom, a common sight at city-run parks.
Four Creeks Preserve is unique in that it is surrounded by urban areas that have grown up. Neighborhoods line the entire southern border, US 441 forms the eastern front, the Turkey Creek neighborhood closes into the north while NW 43rd Street and other neighborhoods crowd close in the west, leaving the 715-acre Four Creeks Preserve within walking distance to many residences.
The next step for Phase 2 will be presentations to both the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, in early October, and the Gainesville City Commission, to be announced. On the city side, the plan must first pass through the citizen-run Nature Centers Commission.
Public input, as well as that from the two commissions, will inform the county’s 10-year management plan for the preserve. Christman said staff has almost finished the plan which the public will be able to access and comment on.
Currently, Christman’s office plans to continue maintaining the preserve with prescribed fires, cutting unsafe buildups of plants, removing nonnative invasive species and perhaps some cutting of pines in the denser southeast section.
The county has already planned its first prescribed burn on the preserve in the northeast corner. Christman said they chose the area to start because it should be a straightforward burn. She said moving forward, the preserve presents challenges for prescribed burns with the proximity to US 441 and neighborhoods.