Sandra Friend: Park should be conserved for future generations


Published: Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 21, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

Knowing the value of Gainesville’s old growth trees — and the value of land in the city of Gainesville — Alfred Ring must be turning in his grave.

First, that the city commissioners of Gainesville would even entertain the sale of a parcel of conservation land — five acres of Loblolly Woods Nature Park — to a private individual. Never mind that Nathan Collier owns land adjacent to Loblolly Woods and wants a piece of the park. A determination of this magnitude, setting precedent for future sales of public land, should be driven from within some need the city has to dispose of a property — say, liability — rather than outside pressure.

Second, that the public trust should be broken in such a manner. A nature park is land conserved for future generations. What trust will current generations have in the city of Gainesville to protect the places they hold dear?

Having explored all of the trails in Loblolly Woods once again this spring for my newest hiking guide to Florida, I can declare them well-used and popular. There are old-growth loblolly pines towering over uncommon wildflowers like spotted wakerobin and smooth Solomon’s seal, and endangered plants like Godfrey’s swampprivet.

Birding is superb along the marsh and the sinkhole pond. The footpaths are distinct. People come and go on the Hogtown Greenway and the side trails throughout the park. Yes, even the portion that Mr. Collier wishes to buy, a little under five acres at $200,000 an acre, or $1 million.

How far can $1 million go in the city of Gainesville? Former mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, working as a lobbyist for Mr. Collier, claims, in a comment on the news story in The Sun, “For $1 million using the values of lands bought with Wild Spaces funds, the city could acquire 68 acres of higher quality habitat.”

Let’s do the math. There are 68 acres of undeveloped, untouched habitats inside the city limits, on sale for $14,700 an acre? Sign me up. I haven’t seen urban forested land at those prices in decades. Or are you talking about a swamp that no one can hike in? That’s no trade for a uplands preserve that residents actually use.

Granted, Lobolly Woods Nature Park needs some attention, primarily in the area of invasive species removal. Otherwise, it’s a fine passive park. Just like the richly wooded Alfred A. Ring Park, named for former chair of the Department of Real Estate and Land Studies at the University of Florida, who donated a prime piece of property upstream on Hogtown Creek to become Gainesville’s first linear nature park in 1990.

By their actions, the Commissioners who voted for “decommissioning” a portion of a park in the public trust have tarnished Gainesville’s good name statewide as one of Florida’s most environmentally aware communities.

Author of 28 nonfiction books, including a dozen guides to Florida hiking, Sandra Friend is chair of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers and a member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association.

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