Hundreds of acres in Clay County purchased for conservation

North Florida Land Trust acquires 465 acres near Camp Blanding

By Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Chances for hiking, bird watching and other outdoor activities are expanding in Clay County after the North Florida Land Trust purchased approximately 465 acres of land.

The land is located about three miles northwest of Keystone Heights and east of Camp Blanding.

The 200-acre western parcel expands Little Rain Lake Preserve, which NFLT acquired in October 2017, to more than 600 acres. The eastern tract is approximately 200 acres very near Gold Head Branch State Park.

The new preserve is close enough to the state park and Florida Trail to expand opportunities for hiking, bird watching and other outdoor activities, officials said.

“This property contains significant areas of longleaf pine sandhills, which are endangered ecosystems in Florida,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “Protection of this land will provide an important habitat for many imperiled species including the gopher tortoise, Florida pine snake, Eastern indigo snakes, and the Florida Black Bear. The porous nature of the land also helps replenish the underground Florida aquifer, which provides fresh water for more than 90 percent of Floridians. Preserving these lands will benefit the lakes of the Keystone Heights area, which have suffered water level declines in recent years.”

NFLT will manage these lands to protect the natural habitats and features, including several clear water lakes surrounded by pine and oak sandhills. They will be working to restore the pine forests to their former condition to provide habitat for many iconic wildlife species such as the Northern bobwhite quail, Eastern wild turkey and Sherman’s fox squirrel. The fresh water lakes provide habitat for many species of reptiles, fish and birds, in addition to groundwater protection.

Conservation of this property also contributes to buffer lands surrounding Camp Blanding and is important for the protection of military lands from the threat of encroaching development. This acquisition was made possible by funding from the Florida Defense Task Force, the Clay County Economic Development Authority and the Army National Guard.

These parcels of land are part of the O2O wildlife corridor, a 1.6-million-acre network of public and private lands that connect the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. NFLT is currently leading efforts to accelerate land conservation in the O2O, and leads the O2O Wildlife Corridor Partnership, which is comprised of public and private organizations focused on this purpose. This acquisition brings the Partnership one step closer to their goal of protecting 10,000 acres in the O2O by 2020.

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