Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY
As they dedicated a new park purchased with the help of Florida Forever funding, Clay County officials and preservationists sought public support for the embattled land preservation initiative.
They asked residents to lobby legislators to fund the program, for which Gov. Charlie Crist is seeking $50 million this year. Florida Forever was given no funding last year because of state budget constraints.
County Commission Chairman Travis Cummings noted that the county's $4.3 million purchase of the new park, Moccasin Slough on Fleming Island, "would never have happened" without a $3.2 million grant from the Florida Communities Trust, one of the recipients of Florida Forever funding.
Without that funding, the 255-acre tract between U.S. 17 and the St. Johns River might have been developed into residential or commercial property rather than a passive park with trails, a playground and picnic area.
"This is a beautiful piece of property," Cummings said. "Obviously, we're happy it is going to be conserved."
He said Mocassin Slough is the kind of land preservation example to use with legislators as they ponder a tight budget in the 2010 session, which began Tuesday.
"It's a challenge," he said. "But there's not a better time to buy land."
Ken Reecy, program director for Florida Communities Trust, also attended the park dedication.
"It is wonderful to come and see what can be done with Florida Forever funds," he said.
A future for the preservation program is warranted, Reecy said, "if we do want to see more parks and an increase in quality of life."
Each year, $20 million in Florida Forever funds could be leveraged into $300 million through bond sales, he said.
Since its 2001 inception, the program has purchased more than 638,600 acres of land with $2.62 billion, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which administers Florida Forever.
Fleming Island resident Lynn Lisenby, a biologist and Florida State College at Jacksonville professor who helped plan Moccasin Slough Park, said at the dedication that proof of the program's worth was evident at the new county …