State pays $6.5M to purchase, preserve Fish Island

City of St. Augustine will manage property

Photos of Fish Island provided by North Florida Land Trust
Photos of Fish Island provided by North Florida Land Trust (Provided by North Florida Land Trust)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The state of Florida is now the official owner of Fish Island and the city of St. Augustine will manage the property.

The long-awaiting $6.5 million deal is officially complete, the North Florida Land Trust announced Thursday.

The property was acquired with funds from the Florida Forever program, which the Florida Cabinet approved in July.

“This is a significant day for the St. Augustine community who worked for more than a decade to save Fish Island from development,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “We were happy to be a part of the efforts to preserve this natural resource. Fish Island is a healthy maritime hammock forest and preservation will help avoid water quality impacts to the Matanzas River. It is also a historic property that is an integral part of St. Augustine’s history.”

Fish Island is a 57-acre property located on the Intracoastal Waterway immediately adjacent to the 312 bridge onto Anastasia Island. Jesse Fish built his home on the land in the 1700s. It was the first orange grove in Florida and gave birth to the citrus industry. At one time, there were approximately 3,000 orange trees on the island and the citrus was exported to England and Spain.

Vice Mayor of the City of St. Augustine Leanna Freeman spent approximately 14 years working to protect Fish Island and called the acquisition a gift and investment from Floridians to future generations. She said the proposed plans for the development of the land had been growing on the radar of citizens over the last 10 years and preserving this land is simply the right thing to do in this time of rapid development and growth.

“Considering all the efforts and ‘stars that had to align’ it is somewhat of a miracle that Fish Island will be preserved for future generations,” Freeman said. “The effort would not have been a success without the commitment and support of community activists, the landowner, their attorney and representatives, local government leadership, state government leadership, staff from our government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, bank representatives, expert valuations and reporting, media coverage and FUNDING from Floridians.”

As a result of the purchase and included in the terms of the sale, the city of St. Augustine will oversee the maintenance and management of the property; however, it will be several months before it opens to the public.

As the owner of record for the conservation lands, the state of Florida will execute a lease with the city of St. Augustine. The city will have one year to complete an approved management plan that will outline the future improvements on the property over the next 10 years.

The plan will include management and protection of the natural and cultural resources of this passive recreational park, as well as a conceptual site plan depicting site improvements such as a small parking area, walking trails and interpretive signage.

The development of the management plan will include multiple public meetings for community input.

The Matanzas Riverkeeper and the community group Save Fish Island will soon be hosting a volunteer event to clean up the property. It will be followed by a public closing celebration at a date this is still being determined.

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