Purchase of 463 acres seen as water supply protection


Published: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

The Alachua County Forever conservation program has added 463 acres to its roster that it plans to open for public enjoyment, some of which was zoned for light industrial use but is now secured for conservation.

The acquisition protects part of both Hatchet Creek and the Murphree Wellfield, Gainesville's drinking water source, said Jib Davidson, forester and land manager with Columbia Timber and Environmental Services. He is also a land broker for United Country — Land & Lifestyle Properties, a locally owned entity.

Alachua County Forever bought the acreage for a little more than $1 million, Davidson said. Two sisters, Judyth Cox of Gainesville and Keystone Heights and Jacqulyn Moore of Bossier City, La., sold the property, which has been in their family for decades.

They inherited it from their father, Davidson said, and decided to donate the timber rights to Alachua County Forever as well.

"This is an amazing piece of property in terms of its wildlife diversity," he said.

The property is located north of northeast 53rd Avenue, according to a United Country news release. It includes wetlands and a pine forest and is also home to the carnivorous hooded pitcher plant.

It also has ephemeral ponds that are loaded with amphibians, according to Davidson.

Around 110 of the 463 acres are zoned for light industrial use, he said, but now they will be reserved for conservation.

"Alachua County Forever means that land's going to be there for a while," he said.

For him, the most important aspect of this sale is its protection of the Murphree Wellfield.

"My water comes out of my tap from GRU, so my water comes from the Murphree Wellfield at our house as well as our office, so I'm kind of interested in having quality clean water," he said. "I kind of like the stuff, so anything our company can do to help protect the Murphree Wellfield we're all in favor of."

Sandra Vardaman, land conservation biologist with Alachua County Forever, said the property falls within the wellfield protection zone, so protecting that land, in turn, helps protect the area's drinking water.

"On another level, it's actually a really pretty piece of land that would be great for public access," she said. "I think it will be a lovely place for people to just go and hang out in nature and have fun."

It will take a while to prepare a management plan and prepare the property for visitors, especially since staff is working on plans to open some other sites as well, Vardaman said. Developing a management plan usually takes a year, and it could be a few more years after that before this land gets its grand opening.

Part of its efforts for this 460-acre property will include ground cover restoration in which staff will work to reinvigorate the ground-level herbaceous and shrubby plants in places where that kind of plant life has suffered. That can require invasive plant control, prescribed burns and re-seeding.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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