Barr Hammock's unveiling draws a crowd
Published: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
Mitchell Sapp, hiking poles in hands, had been waiting for Saturday for months.
The day finally came and Mitchell, along with about 150 others, got to see a prairie vista a stone’s throw from Interstate 75 but a world away.
Saturday was the long-awaited opening of the Barr Hammock Preserve, the largest tract bought under the Alachua County Forever program.
“I do a lot of hiking and I’ve been coming out here for the past three or four months to see if it was open yet,” said Mitchell. “We have so much land in this county for hiking, and this is a great addition.”
Alachua County Forever is a conservation land program funded with a voter-passed tax. Other state and federal programs contributed to the purchase of the preserve from the family of Bill Whitehurst, which used to farm the land and provided a 20 percent donation toward county acquisition.
At 5,700 acres, it is the largest Alachua County Forever program and includes Ledworth and Levy prairies. Different parts of the preserve were bought separately at different times.
The north section, accessed off Wacahoota Road near Micanopy, has a six-mile levee along the prairie basin that serves as a trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The entire preserve will eventually include 25 miles of trails, observation platforms and interpretive signs.
The elevation of the levee affords a good view of wildlife and birds. Stephen Hofstetter, county environmental program supervisor, said 80 to 85 species of birds can be found in the preserve, adding that during the annual Audubon Society Christmas bird count he estimated 400 to 500 wood ducks were there.
Other animals include the expected alligators and otters, but also relatively rare roundtail muskrats.
Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird said the prairie acts as a filter to cleanse water before it seeps into the aquifer.
Bird added that water eventually travels a long distance.
“We have a huge catchment basin that will help us in refreshing the Floridan aquifer,” Bird said. “This prairie and the water that goes through the aquifer here is ending up someday probably coming out in the Suwannee River at one of the springs over there. We can feel good that this is helping to contribute to some of that really clean water as opposed to other water that we have a tougher challenge with.”
The large crowd that came out for the official opening ceremony, which featured hayrides, is evidence of the popularity of land conservation in the region, participants said.
But hiker Jacque Steer of Marion County, a member of the Florida Trail Association, said Barr Hammock will be special because it most often will be filled with peace and quiet instead of people.
“The best thing about this is the panoramic views,” Steer said. “And it doesn’t have the crowds of Paynes Prairie. You won’t see anybody else out here.”