Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arboretum Is a Natural Setting in Heart of East Arlington

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arboretum Is a Natural Setting in Heart of East Arlington

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

It has a scenic 25-foot ravine created by a strip mining operation that was abandoned in the early 1960s. Along with stately oaks, tall pines, scrub palmetto and cypress trees with their distinctive roots, the state's largest loblolly tree grows within its 118 acres.

Its terrain ranges from salt marsh to deep forest to swamp. There's even a small lake with a resident gator.

Surprisingly, it's in the heart of East Arlington, just minutes from bustling Regency Square. Even so, it's pretty much escaped notice for decades.

"It's amazing that you would have a piece of property that's been undeveloped and undiscovered for about 30 years," said Lynda Aycock, a board member of a nonprofit corporation called the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. "You feel like you've been transported to the foothills of North Carolina. It's so unusual for Jacksonville."

The organization has turned the site into Jacksonville's first arboretum and will host its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at 1445 Millcoe Road, off Monument Road. The arboretum is studded with low-maintenance native plants and trees, birds and wildlife, such as owls, pheasants, quail and foxes.

Arboretum officials are talking with the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University about using the site for classroom research, Aycock said.

The city-owned land was set aside as a buffer between a water treatment facility built in the 1970s and nearby communities. A federal grant required that the property become a passive park, but that never happened, Aycock said.

In 2003, Judith Stevens, a member of the Greater Arlington Civic Council, was looking for a site to start an arboretum. She and landscape architect Lad Hawkins noticed the neglected preserve, and a nonprofit corporation was formed, Aycock said.

The city leased it to the group in 2006 and former City Councilman Lake Ray allocated $250,000 in council district funds for construction of a paved parking area. …

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