Protected

Nonprofit preserves sensitive lands in Clay County

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 1/17/18

JACKSONVILLE – One of Clay County’s largest development companies is helping preserve sensitive areas along Black Creek and Doctors Lake with help from a Jacksonville-based nonprofit.

South …

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Protected

Nonprofit preserves sensitive lands in Clay County

Posted

JACKSONVILLE – One of Clay County’s largest development companies is helping preserve sensitive areas along Black Creek and Doctors Lake with help from a Jacksonville-based nonprofit.

South Doctors Lake Ltd., owned by James R. Menard, donated 388 acres along the two waterways in December to the North Florida Land Trust.

Land Trust President Jim McCarthy describes the donation as a huge win on various fronts.

“Preserving this land is not only good for Black Creek and Doctors Lake, but it will also have economic benefits by acting as a natural buffer against flooding,” McCarthy said.

According to McCarthy, an acre of wetlands, which is how McCarthy would classify the Black Creek area, holds anywhere between 1 million and 1.5 million gallons of water. Because of this, when floodwaters make their way into the Black Creek area, the banks of the creek and surrounding land soaks up water that would otherwise flood the area.

Preserving land like this throughout North Florida has always been the goal of the North Florida Land Trust, according to North Florida Land Trust Conservation Advocate, Andrea Conover.

“When we were founded in 1999, our goal was to ensure that North Florida didn’t end up like South Florida,” Conover said. “And by that, I mean, our goal was to ensure important pieces of North Florida land remained protected.”

Since its founding, the nonprofit has protected a total of 18,811 acres of land, with 5,720 of those acres being owned directly by the trust. Another 1,462 acres are currently under conservation easement in which a private owner owns the property but does so with restrictive developmental rights. The owner can still farm those lands and cut down trees for the use of timber and more, but they can’t develop something like a subdivision or an office building on the land.

The remaining 11,629 protected acres includes land that the trust considers facilitated, or protected. Conover said protection can come in a number of ways. Sometimes it simply means temporarily holding ownership of the land and sometimes that help is funding. Other times, it’s land the trust has owned but handed over to other agencies. For example, if the trust gains ownership of land near a national park, the United States National Park Service might be given ownership over the land. Regardless, Conover assures that the land is always protected.

While the trust wishes it could protect any and all land it can acquire, that isn’t the case. The trust is constantly looking at potential land acquisitions and – based on a number of qualities and characteristics of that land – chooses which acquisition to move forward with next.

“We look at biodiversity and habitat, water quality preservation, water quality restoration, farm and forestlands and finally, public use and recreation,” Conover said.

The 388 recently-acquired acres in Clay County came into the North Florida Land Trust’s portfolio through an interesting sequence of events, said McCarthy.

“[South Doctors Lake, Ltd.’s] called us to see if we’d be interested,” McCarthy said. “There isn’t a huge market for anyone trying to sell 388 acres of wetland and generally speaking, there isn’t much to do with that land.”

No stranger to owning and developing large tracts of land, South Doctors Lake Ltd. Has a development portfolio that includes Heritage Farms, Peter’s Creek, Oak Creek and Villages of Fireside subdivisions.

“There’s a huge advantage to donating it with taxes and marketability and what not, and albeit difficult, you can build on wetlands with proper mitigation but they didn’t want to see that happen,” McCarthy said. “They knew they wanted to donate and when their agent reached out to us, we jumped on the opportunity.”

Protection aside, McCarthy said this acquisition was important to the trust specifically because it was Black Creek acreage, which according to McCarthy, is a beloved piece of North Florida land.

“Those of us who have been fortunate to have been born here have always loved it and those of us who have moved here, like myself, have fallen in love with it,” McCarthy said. “We want our kids and grandkids to enjoy what we always have had the pleasure of enjoying.”

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