Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet agreed Tuesday to purchase the multi-faceted 11,027-acre Horn Spring property, located within Leon and Jefferson counties.
The property is a major wildlife corridor connecting St. Marks River Preserve State Park, Fanlew Preserve, Aucilla Wildlife Management Area and Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park.
Major benefit of the project is that it will protect water resources, with 10 known springs on the property, says the Department of Environmental Protection. And it will protect 12 known historic sites, plus provide a variety of public recreational and educational opportunities.
"Acquiring the Horn Spring property is a prime example of efforts to focus taxpayer resources on projects that provide a direct benefit to the environment and local communities," said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. "This is the largest Florida Forever acquisition since 2006, and it will provide numerous benefits to our springs while offering recreation for Floridians and visitors."
The property is located within the Upper St. Marks River Corridor Florida Forever Project, ranked No. 9 in the Florida Forever Critical Natural Lands project category, and the St. Joe Timberland-St. Marks Springs site Florida Forever project, ranked No. 3 in the Florida Forever Climate Change Lands project category. The ranking was approved by the Board of Trustees on April 26, 2016. The property will be purchased from Natural Bridge Timberlands, LLC, a subsidiary of AgReserves, Inc.
After the Cabinet action, several state agency and environmental leaders came forward to praise the purchase.
"As farmers and ranchers, we look to the long term in everything we do," said Don Sleight, CEO, AgReserves, Inc. "That this land will be preserved in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy is especially gratifying for us. We are glad to see the ecological treasures on this property come under the ownership and care of Florida Forever."
The southern portion of Horn Spring will be added to the existing Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park and will be managed by the Florida Park Service. The northern portion of Horn Spring will be managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District in coordination with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"The District appreciates the efforts by Governor Scott and DEP to further protect and preserve special places like this in northwest Florida," said Brett Cyphers, executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. "We look forward to working with DEP and FWC for the long-term preservation of this vital natural resource."
"This acquisition presents an unparalleled opportunity to assist in the protection of the tremendous natural resources of the St. Marks River ecosystem," said Greg Knecht, director of land protection for the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "I applaud the state for their work to protect wildlife habitat and preserve water quality in this vital area of northwest Florida."
"Natural Bridge is among Florida's most valuable conservation lands. We commend the state's efforts to protect the river and springs for the benefit of people and wildlife," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida.
"The board and staff of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy support this project," said George Willson, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy board member. "It is a remarkable water resource and river habitat conservation action by DEP and the private landowner which preserves a regionally significant hydrologic corridor from the Red Hills of Tallahassee to tidewater."