State buys 4,900 acres to protect Silver Springs

PALATKA, Fla., – The St. Johns River Water Management District's governing board on Tuesday approved buying nearly 4,900 acres in Marion County that will protect Silver Springs and the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers.

The property, called Silver Springs Forest, is located directly north of Silver Springs State Park. The district is partnering with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Conservation Trust for Florida on the purchase from Rayonier, Inc.

The $11.5 million acquisition will contribute to an eight-mile buffer zone where forests "capture" rainwater to recharge the aquifer and augment the springs' flow. The purchase also will protect the headwaters of Halfmile Creek and an unnamed tributary that flow into the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers, which are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters. The tract includes 378 acres of wetlands along these two creeks.

Other benefits include reducing nitrate loading into springs and rivers, allowing for hydrologic restoration that will result in water quality improvement, and creating opportunities for water storage.

The property provides habitat for the Florida black bear and other wildlife and links Indian Lake State Forest, Silver Springs State Park, the Cross Florida Greenway and District-managed lands to the Ocala National Forest. This connection increases public opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The district is contributing $8.7 million toward the purchase and will manage the property. Other funding includes $2 million in springs protection funding from DEP and $917,000 from CTF.

"This partnership acquisition allows us to contemplate restoration projects that will benefit Silver Springs and provides a valuable opportunity to preserve and possibly enhance groundwater recharge close to the spring," said Vice Chairman Fred Roberts Jr., of Ocala. "Also, linking thousands of acres of public lands will provide additional recreational opportunities in the region and creates a 20-mile migratory corridor that will enhance wildlife habitat."

"Collaboration between state and local partners is key to reaching our restoration goals. DEP is proud to be a partner on this important acquisition that will reduce nitrate loading to Silver Springs, as well as provide vital aquifer recharge to benefit the springs' flow," said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. "Addressing both water quality and quantity will further our efforts to protect this spring."