Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Changes Tune on Timucuan Preserve Grant Money Helps Sway Commission

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Changes Tune on Timucuan Preserve Grant Money Helps Sway Commission

Article excerpt

Nassau County officials, reversing their decade-long opposition, now want the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve to stretch into their county as had been intended in the 1988 federal law.

The appeal of grant money from Washington is one factor that has shifted the thinking among the county's commissioners, and an extension of the preserve might boost Jacksonville efforts to promote ecological-based tourism, officials said.

The five Nassau County commissioners voted Monday to explore how to extend the preserve, although any final action is at least a year away and would require congressional action, said Commissioner Dave Howard.

The commissioners have yet to decide where to expand the 46,000-acre preserve's boundary in the county; however, they want to make it as large as possible, officials said.

"It could follow the natural and ecological areas near the Nassau River," Howard said.

An expanded preserve could benefit Jacksonville's efforts to market city parks in concert with state and national parks in the area, said Susan Wiles, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney's chief of staff. A park management and marketing plan is just weeks away and it focuses on the area surrounding the Timucuan preserve.

A larger preserve "could potentially be a big deal," Wiles said. "The bigger the preserve is the more it helps us in our cooperative marketing process."

Last year, the largest parks near the Timucuan -- including Kingsley Plantation, Fort Caroline National Memorial, the state-run Talbot Island parks, and Huguenot and Hanna parks, which are run by Jacksonville -- had nearly 1.9 million visits. Officials hope that number will grow and that the parks attract outsiders to the area for outdoor recreation, like canoeing or kayaking, or to see the historical sites.

Where county officials once thought that National Park Service designation would harm residents, they now see the promise of Washington's role.

The preserve's 11-year history indicates that it does not block public access to the land or add layers of burdensome regulations, the main reasons Nassau County officials had opposed the natural area, said county attorney Mike Mullin. …

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