Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Saved' Land at Issue How Should Area Be Used Now?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Saved' Land at Issue How Should Area Be Used Now?

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, Times-Union staff writer

It's a 2,006-acre slice of what Florida might have looked like centuries ago, saved from development by the city of Jacksonville and the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Walking on land once proposed for homes, members of area environmental and recreation groups joined state officials to take a closer look at this island in the middle of civilization, deciding how to use it carefully for hiking and biking trails, canoeing and primitive camping.

"This is the type of area we all have in the back of our minds," said water management district regional land manager Bill Bossuot, as he stood with 15 members of the Northern Region Recreation Advisory Committee on a grassy field in the middle of the Julington-Durbin Preserve.

"I can think of the kind of development that would have gone in here and the potential water impacts with Julington Creek on one side and Durbin Creek on the other," he said. "We are really fortunate to get it and put it into public ownership."

Nature Conservancy land steward Barbara Blonder suggested the district and city keep any access simple.

"It's a really neat opportunity to just have the property in an urban setting where people have a chance to come out and learn about the really nifty natural communities in Florida," she said. "The nicest accessibility is along the two creeks. I am a paddler, so kayaking is a great way. You also have the opportunity to come in these old road beds to see some of the longleaf pine and wire grass."

Noble Enge, a member of the Florida Canoe and Kayak Association, suggested the city just make sure no one paves any roads in the preserve to get to proposed canoe launching areas.

"You don't need much. You just need an access point and a place to get out," he said. "I wouldn't use the roads much. I would use the water. But they ought to have an access point."

The city purchased the site to preserve it as a passive park a year ago, halting plans to develop 1,400 acres of a planned 2,700-home, 4,700-acre Bartram Park community. The city and district each paid about $4 million, with the state kicking in the rest for the $16.9 million property on the Duval/St. Johns county line bounded by St. Augustine Road to the north, Julington and Durbin creeks to the west and U.S. 1 to the east.

Before Tuesday's tour, members of the the district's recreation advisory council received updates on plans for sites it has purchased including a portion of Twelve Mile Swamp at U.S. 1 and International Golf Parkway, and 12,000 acres of environmentally significant land about 10 miles west of Ormond Beach. Then they ventured into the protected land.

"Every time we have a recreation advisory committee meeting, we try to take the members to different properties we have acquired to show them what we proposed in our land management plans and different recreational activities we have proposed," said Bossuot. …

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