Huge Addition To Alachua County's Public Lands, Levy Prairie
Published February 2nd, 2013
ALACHUA COUNTY - It's Alachua County's largest and most expensive acquisition yet. About 150 people celebrated the grand opening of the Levy Prairie portion of the barr hammock preserve on Southeast 11th Drive, off Wacahoota Road.
If you like bird watching, bike riding, or just admiring nature. Levy Prairie might be for you. Mike Byerly, the Chair for the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners says, "This is a really big park for a county park. It feels like a state park, it's that large, it's that functionally diverse." And now its open to the public. Alan Shapiro, a resident of Gainesville at the ribbon cutting event tells me he can't wait to take advantage of what it has to offer.
"We're going to come out here in different seasons so we can see different plants blooming and different birds flying around," Shapiro says. The 6.5 mile loop surrounds 1,065 acres of restored marsh. The entire preserve is more than 5,700 acres of land. And if you come in the morning you might get lucky enough to spot a bald eagle, otter or maybe even an alligator.
Levy Prairie cost 4 million dollars. But the county didn't have to put any money into the project. Ramesh Buch, the Manager for the Alachua County Forever Program. 60 percent of that came from the State, Florida Communities Trust. Another million dollars came from federal government which is the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, through the USDA and then the balance was actually donated by the land owner as part of the sale.
Now these sights, aren't just pretty. Chris Bird, the Director of the Environmental Protection Department says the property will help clean any pollution that may be in the rainfall. "We get some high quality water that goes back into the florida aquifer, which is our water drinking supply and so this really is helping recharge that aquifer with very clean water," Bird says.
Busy Shires Byerly, Assistant Executive Director for the Conservation Trust For Florida says, the prairie is also helping to create a diversity of ecosystems. She says, "This is just one piece of the puzzle to help connect other large conservation areas. This part of a green way that helps to connect the Ocala National Forest all the way in Marion County to the Goethe State Forest which is in Levy County.
Levy Prairie was acquired in 2009, but it's a project that took four years to come about. Stephen Hofstetter, Natural Resource Program Manager for the Alachua County Environmental Protection, Natural Resource Program Manager. "Typically people think of paynes prairie first but it's a very similar habitat to paynes prairie. It's a great alternative option and there's not a lot of people out here typically and you can really enjoy it for a whole morning or day trip."
That's not all for the preserve. In the future the county wants to expand the biking and hiking trail to 25 miles and provide educational nature related classes and programs.
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