Alachua County plans to preserve critical new property near Hawthorne

HAWTHORNE — The sale of a 605-acre wilderness area ensured the protection of both the local ecology and the legacy of a family matriarch.

Alachua County Forever, the county’s environmental land acquisition program, purchased the land for $1.5 million on August 26 from five siblings whose late mother had entrusted them with the land. The property is adjacent to the Phifer Flatwoods Preserve, which is also managed by ACF, north of Lake Lochloosa.

“We loved it. It was a magical place to grow up,” said Ron Delk, one of the brothers who sold the land and who was in charge of the trust. “We also knew it was an environmentally important property.”

The siblings involved in the sale — Delk, Alice Braddock, Wilda Carter, James Delk and Sandra Worsham — are the children of Carrie C. Brown, a Hawthorne woman who died in 2020 at the age of 104.

Ron Delk, a real estate agent in The Villages, said his mother had told him and his siblings that if they took care of the land, the land would take care of them. It was his emphasis on preserving the nature of this property, which had been in his family since the 19th century, that led Delk to contact both the county and the state to purchase the site for good. of conservation.

Tom Hutcheson, who has been a partner at Delk for 42 years, spoke about his admiration for the resolve with which Brown supported his family and his estate.

“It’s important to know that Ms. Brown was really a pioneering woman in her time,” he said, noting that she owned a business in addition to managing the property and raising her children. She “she was more or less an enterprising woman but interested in supporting her family and conserving that land.”

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Carrie C. Brown left the property to her five children when she died in 2020 at the age of 104. “She protected the land for us, she just didn’t want it to be developed because we grew up on it and she wanted us to have it. said Ron Delk, her son, who was put in charge of the trust. (Photo courtesy of Ron Delk)

Delk emphasized the purity and beauty of the area as a reason for preservation.

“We really didn’t want the land to be developed because it’s beautiful,” he said. “It has the creek running through it, so we wanted it to be preserved.”

He went on to express his hope for the establishment of public recreational opportunities so that people can appreciate what he described as the magnificence of the land.

“This is something that we have enjoyed as a family for years, and it will be good for future generations to enjoy it,” he said.

The county will now look to capitalize on the opportunity to protect what was previously a missing link in the surrounding network of protected lands. Specifically, the plan will focus on enhancing and maintaining the area’s rich ecosystem, which includes wetlands, pine forests, floodplain swamps, and mesic hammocks.

This property is particularly significant because it is located within the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a statewide collection of lands identified as ecologically critical, and also contains more than two miles of Lochloosa Creek, a vital link to Lochloosa Lake. The latter is designated a Florida Outstanding Water, meaning the state legislature recognizes its exceptional ecological importance and deems it worthy of special protection.

Conservation efforts will begin with a field survey, during which ACF will identify the areas and resources most in need of restoration. The field study will be followed by the writing of a management plan that will detail the specific procedures to improve and maintain the quality of the habitat during a period of 10 years.

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ACF purchased the property with funds provided by the Half Cent Wilderness and Public Places sales tax, which Alachua County voters reapproved in the 2016 election. This fund, which is used for areas identified as the most sensitive and critical to protect, has facilitated the county’s acquisition of nearly 33,000 acres since the program’s inception in 2000.

“Protecting all of those different corridors and ecosystems would not be possible in Alachua County without voter support and funding for the Wilderness and Public Places initiative through the additional tax,” said Andi Christman, manager of the Alachua County Land Office. Management and Conservation. “…it’s a unique story about a community’s commitment to looking to the future, and it’s been incredibly successful.”

The property includes vital habitats for several species of plants and animals, including some endangered. “It was just a magical place, really,” said Ron Delk, who grew up on this land and was put in charge of the trust. (Photo courtesy of the Alachua County Office of Conservation and Land Management)

Christman noted that the recently acquired property also has great potential for public recreation opportunities, in part due to its accessibility via County Road 2082. He stressed the importance of low-impact public use, which avoids any type of cleanup or development and Instead, he favors minimalist amenities. such as unpaved trails for walking or biking.

“This site is going to be a very good site for public access once we can go through the management plan process,” he said. “To help them visit the site in a way that is respectful and safe, but also allows them to better understand the natural ecosystems in this wonderful part of Florida.”

Although they had to iron out some disagreements over certain details of the deal, the five brothers agreed that selling the land, with a stipulation guaranteeing ecological protection, was the best way to honor their mother’s wishes.

The day the deal closed, August 26, would have been Brown’s 107th birthday.

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