Alachua County's Emerald Necklace

Barr Hammock by Conservation Trust for Florida

Purchased in 2006 to preserve important wetland and prairie habitats, the 2,303-acre Barr Hammock and Ledwith Prairie property is the crown jewel of Alachua County's "Emerald Necklace" and the largest parcel acquired by the land conservation program. The site has a long history of human use, starting with prehistoric American Indian cultures, and more recently as a cattle ranch and timber farm.

A Florida Communities Trust grant, co-submitted by Conservation Trust for Florida and Alachua County and received in 2007, reimbursed the ACF program with 60% of the purchase price. The Southwest Florida Water Management District also contributed mitigation funds.

Barr Hammock is a “land bridge” that connects two of the largest wetlands in the county - Ledwith Prairie and Levy Prairie. This unique upland helps create a wildlife corridor that connects the Ocala National Forest to Goethe State Forest. Several federally listed species frequent Barr Hammock, including sandhill cranes and the Southern Bald Eagle.

The property has a long history of settlement by Native Americans and features significant prehistoric archaeological sites. 19th-century settlers also resided here before J.J. Barr, a citrus grower in the early 1900s, for whom the site was named. In recent years Barr Hammock was logged for timber, though much of it was managed as a natural area. After completion of a management plan, over 14 miles of trails will open to the public for passive recreational activities such as bird watching, hiking, and simply enjoying the beautiful landscape.

Using Alachua County Forever funds, the Alachua County Commission purchased this prized property, furthering our commitment to help create a recreational, landscape-level corridor that runs through Alachua and Marion Counties. Barr Hammock connects Payne's Prairie State Preserve to the Ocala National Forest and Goethe State Forest, keeping intact entire ecosystems, wildlife populations and the largest wetlands in Alachua County -- Ledwith and Levy Prairies. Barr Hammock and its surrounding uplands are some of the most important ecologically intact examples of prairie/lake ecosystems in north central Florida. Its protection preserves significant prehistoric archaeological sites and will provide the citizens of Florida with a beautiful space for recreational activities such as bird watching and hiking.

Barr Hammock connects to Paynes Prairie State Preserve and also helps to create a wildlife corridor that connects the Ocala National Forest to Goethe State Forest, through southern Alachua and northern Marion counties. Landscape-level corridor connections are one of the most important methods to protect our remaining intact ecosystems and their wildlife populations.

Alachua County Environmental Protection Department (EPD) staff submitted a grant application to Florida Communities Trust (FCT) to assist with the purchase of the property. CTF was the co-applicant for the grant to FCT which reimbursed the County 60% of the purchase price -- $6.6 million. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) also contributed approximately $290,000 in mitigation funds.

As a part of the grant application to FCT, EPD staff received 13 letters from support from such diverse groups and individuals as the County’s State legislative delegation, Women for Wise Growth, the Town of Micanopy, the Bartram Trail Conference, Micanopy Historic Preservation Trust, Alachua Conservation Trust, and various non-profit environmental organizations.

As land values continue to escalate, it will become more difficult to acquire large parcels, but this purchase is an extraordinary and important piece of the puzzle in the effort to connect Paynes Prairie to other protected natural areas such as Price’s Scrub and Goethe State Forest. Beyond the scientific rationale for its protection, it is also a stunningly beautiful landscape, offering a haunting feel for old Florida, free of modern distractions.

Levy Prairie

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