Alachua County bought a 2,274-acre conservation easement through its Alachua County Forever program, bringing the total acreage to 27,952.
In a press release, Alachua County said it had finalized the purchase from the Hitchcock family. The sale means no development will be allowed on the land in an effort to protect water quality in the Santa Fe River and wildlife habitat.
Hitchcock and Sons Inc. and Hitchcocks Ranch LLC, the current owners, will be allowed to continue cattle grazing and some other agricultural activities. Also, the protection doesn’t extend to the two event venues and homesites on the property.
More than 25 percent of the land will, however, obtain a Preservation Zone designation that requires the area to stay in its natural condition. The new acquisition will provide a link between Alachua County’s Mill Creek Preserve and the Suwannee River Management District.
The land will connect two other Alachua County Forever sites to create 4,700 acres of contiguous preserved land.
The Hitchcock family will receive $5.6 million under the deal’s terms. According to Alachua County, the price comes roughly $260,000 below appraisals.
The money comes from the Wild Places, Public Spaces sales tax. Voters reinstated the sales tax in 2016, and since then, Alachua County Forever has protected 8,098 acres.
In December, the county closed on another purchase of more than 200 acres that would be added to the Lake Alto Preserve, pushing the preserve to over 1,000 acres.
The public has access to 76 percent of the program’s preserves.