New Alachua County Forever Preserve Protects Newnans Lake Watershed
January 21, 2021
Press release from Alachua County
With funding from the Alachua County Forever portion of Wild Spaces and Public Places, Alachua County has finalized the purchase of 1,250.85 acres in the Newnans Lake watershed. Public ownership of the property formerly held by the Weyerhaeuser Company will contribute to maintaining or improving water quality in Hatchet Creek and downstream into Newnans Lake.
The property, known as Parcel E, is located on the north side of State Road 26, approximately one mile west of Orange Heights. Its location is strategic, filling the gap between Alachua County’s Balu Forest on the east and St. Johns River Water Management District’s Newnans Lake Conservation Area on the west. Together with UF’s Austin Cary Memorial Forest and Gainesville’s Gum Root Park, these properties combine to make 11,550 acres of contiguous protected property in the headwaters of Newnans Lake.
Wild Spaces and Public Places funding, the voter-approved, one-half-cent sales tax, provided the funds for the purchase price of $3,371,104. Under the Wild Space and Public Places referendum approved in 2016, the tax will be collected through 2024 to continue funding land purchases through the Alachua County Forever program and improvements in County parks.
The Weyerhaeuser Company managed Parcel E for timber production and will continue limited harvesting for up to ten years under a timber reservation agreement. As timber stands are cut, Weyerhaeuser will relinquish any further right or control over those acres. Such a timber harvesting agreement benefits the public by reducing the County’s purchase price and phasing in the County’s responsibilities to manage and restore the property.
County staff assume overall management responsibilities immediately, and preserving the integrity of Bee Tree Creek and its unnamed tributary will be a key. These creeks flow into Hatchet Creek and, ultimately, Newnans Lake.
The Parcel E project has been in the works since 2015. The County began discussing the acquisition in conjunction with a proposed exchange of the property for the County’s fairgrounds on NE 39th Avenue. When the County’s plans for the fairgrounds changed, discussions turned to a direct purchase of the property.