Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Asks Lawmakers to Buy Land

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Asks Lawmakers to Buy Land

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

As state legislators met in Tallahassee Monday to begin fixing a $1.3 billion budget deficit, a group from Clay County was planning a trip to the capital next month to ask the state to buy nearly 250 acres of land for a passive park and nature preserve on the North Fork of Black Creek.

The Middleburg site, known as the North Fork Ranch, is what's left of a 1,500-acre farm founded in the mid 1950s by William S. Towers Sr. Since his death in 1972, the family has gradually sold off most of the land and has offered most of the remaining acreage, which includes a mile of frontage on Black Creek, to the state.

Betsy Towers, the patriarch's daughter, has assembled a team of supporters for her plan to have the state buy the property under the Florida Forever Act, which provides funding authority to conserve pristine lands that could adversely affect the environment if sold to developers for housing or commercial developments.

"It would be a great gift for this area," Towers said. "We're asking for $1.6 million. Ours is one of 35 projects in Northeast Florida and 154 projects statewide that have applied to the Florida Communities Trust for $66 million. The program is funded by documentary stamps and the money can only be spent on environmental lands."

One of the project's biggest boosters is County Commissioner Christy Fitzgerald, who will head a delegation to Tallahassee in about a month to pitch the proposal directly to state officials.

"We're hoping to get a time certain [for a hearing] in late November to present our case to the Florida Communities Trust Board," said Fitzgerald, who chairs the Clay County Parks and Recreation Committee. "We're hoping to get some of our state representatives to come and speak, too."

The plan has received the formal support of the County Commission, which adopted a resolution in March asking the state to buy the land and turn it over to the county as a passive "eco-tourism" park. …

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