KEYSTONE HEIGHTS, Fla. – North Florida Land Trust has acquired 415 acres of land in Clay County, which is home to an endangered sandhill forest with a longleaf pine ecosystem.
Little Rain Lake Preserve is in Keystone Heights near Little Rain Lake Park and close to Camp Blanding.
The land was acquired through funding from with the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program. The REPI program identified the land as a prime candidate for conservation and important for the protection of military lands from the threat of encroaching development.
“Preserving this land is important not only to act as a buffer for Camp Blanding but also to restore and preserve one of Florida’s most endangered ecosystems,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “Longleaf pine forests were once a widespread ecosystem throughout the state but has experienced a 98 percent decline. We plan to restore the property by reintroducing prescribed burns to promote the growth of the longleaf pines, which protect the habitats of many threatened and endangered species.”
Little Rain Lake Preserve is a sandhill community, which is a longleaf pine ecosystem characterized by gently rolling terrain that provides important habitat for many Florida species including the gopher tortoise, indigo snake, Sherman’s fox squirrel and the Florida Black Bear.
It is within the “O2O” corridor, which is a nationally critical wildlife corridor that stretches from the Ocala National Forest to the Osceola National Forest and eventually to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.
NFLT has organized a new partnership to combine the efforts of state and federal agencies with nonprofits’ efforts to preserve and restore this important wildlife corridor.
"The purchase of environmentally sensitive lands protects and preserves the natural resources and ecosystems that are so unique to our region of Florida," said Senator Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. "I applaud the work of the North Florida Land Trust and our federal partners, Camp Blanding and the Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, for their work in bringing this acquisition project to fruition."
The REPI program is designed to secure buffers around military installation to protect the military mission. Preserving the land around Camp Blanding will allow Florida National Guard soldiers to train to the fence line without fear of affecting the quality of life for neighbors.
“The National Guard is always happy to find partnerships that help meet multiple benefits for the public,” said Paul Catlett, installation and environmental program manager for Camp Blanding. "If we can reduce conflicts between military training and people's homes while also preserving important natural landscapes then that's a win-win."