Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) will double its footprint around Orange Lake after an 84-acre purchase on Tuesday, with additional buys set for the coming months.
The new parcel borders ACT’s existing Orange Lake Overlook Preserve, 71 acres, off US 441 and will allow expanded opportunities for the Trust.
Tom Kay, ACT executive director, said the purchase will support two goals: protecting an iconic viewshed for North Central Florida and adding to the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Private donors have backed the project with more than $120,000 raised. ACT has been under contract to purchase the land since the late summer of 2022 and recently launched the donations drive to help finance the $530,000 purchase.
“I think places like this are becoming more and more important, not only for the availability of hiking and the benefits it has for wildlife and for helping protect the water quality of Orange Lake but also to protect the history and culture of Florida—particularly old Florida,” Kay said in a phone interview.
The trust has relied on community support to close deals over the past several years, Kay said, as the real estate market has become harder.
ACT also applied for a grant through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to support the purchase. Kay expects to receive funds, but the award won’t come until later in 2023.
The Sawall family owns the parcel and has worked to conserve the agricultural land for years. The trust wanted to acquire additional properties and jumped when the property became available, Kay said.
“They’ve been doing a wonderful job out there, and we’re really appreciative of what they’ve done out there,” Kay said.
ACT hopes to combine both properties with nine acres that Marion County owns to create more active recreation and educational opportunities.
Kay said the property already attracts many visitors despite the low population density in the area. He said as more people move to Florida and the ACT expands on the site.
“We’re really trying to keep [the wildlife corridor] intact,” Kay said. “And of course, that area is particularly important for Sandhill Cranes and a lot of the other wading birds and waterfowl.”
The area’s importance to birds forms a part of the trust’s application for federal funds, Kay said.
Just north of the site, Alachua County has prioritized conservation to form a crescent around Gainesville. The county commission approved 80% of the Wild Spaces Public Places funds to continue conservation efforts, giving the other 20% to parks.
The Florida Legislature also passed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act in 2021, signaling its desire to preserve the land. The corridor covers 17.7 million acres from the Everglades up through Central and North Florida and across the Panhandle.
ACT continues accepting private donations for the land at their website.
I really enjoyed your article on action being taken to preserve this sensitive & historic part of old north Florida. These small wildlife corridors are vital to the remaining & shrinking wildlife/habitat in northern Florida.
Is this OK to buy land for conservation outside of Alachua county while using funds from Alachua County surtaxes?
That doesn’t seem right or legal.
Hello, Mike. Alachua Conservation Trust is a nonprofit that is independent of Alachua County government. So, Alachua County tax funds will not be used. The trust works across 16 counties in Florida and often partners with those counties if projects fall within their borders.
Good on everyone involved. I lived at Mike’s Fish Camp, which is nearby, for nearly a year and fell in love with this area. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Florida. Keep it up!