Alachua County Forever signs largest land purchase

Alachua County announced Tuesday the purchase of 3,936 acres for more than $10.5 million, marking the largest single land buy in Alachua County Forever’s history.

The new tract, located south of Hawthorne and bordering Putnam County, will connect two other county properties obtained in 2019: the Lochloosa Slough Preserve and the Fox Pen Tract.

The county will work to restore 2,200 acres of pine flatwoods in the tract and bring back a more natural environment. Around 40 percent of the land is “good quality wetlands” with lakes and ponds, according to Alachua County’s new release.

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Staff will start an analysis of the land in order to create a management plan for the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners. Part of the plan may include public access for hunting.

The news release also noted that the new property forms a 10,000-acre protected corridor between lands owned by Alachua County, Alachua Conservation Trust and the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Lochloosa Slough Preserve addition map

The $10.5 million used to make the new purchase came from the Wild Space, Public Places (WSPP) tax that voters approved in 2016. The half-cent sales tax funds both county and municipal efforts to improve community and natural spaces. 

The City of Gainesville recently closed H. Spurgeon Cherry Pool for $1.4 million of renovations funded by the WSPP tax. The recently opened Unity Park and soon-to-open Clarence R. Kelly Community Center and Park also came from WSPP dollars.

Since its 2016 approval, the tax has allowed Alachua County to purchase 12,033 acres of land. Alachua County Forever closed on a more than 2,000-acre easement of land on Jan. 4 for an additional $5.6 million.

The WSPP tax will expire Dec. 31, 2024 unless the public votes to extend the program.

Of the money received in 2020, Alachua County kept 57.17 percent of the money while the City of Gainesville got 35.78 percent and the other municipalities split 7.05 percent of the funds.

Alachua County Forever began 22 years ago as the county’s environmental land acquisition program. Since then, the program has purchased 31,509 acres throughout the county, according to the county.

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