Alachua County's Emerald Necklace

Levy Prairie

The purchase of 3,317-acre Levy Prairie project will be funded through a grant from Florida Communities Trust (FCT). The project forms the northern border of the 2,303-acre Barr Hammock Preserve, which was nominated by CTF and purchased by Alachua County in 2006. FCT awarded this project the maximum 10 Project Excellence points, making the total score 180 (out of 190), which made it one of top-ranked projects.

Together, these parcels are part of the 12,000-acre Barr Hammock-Ledwith Prairie/Levy Prairie ecosystem and one of the county’s “crown jewels.” Levy Prairie and the surrounding uplands are historically one of the most significant examples of prairie/lake ecosystems in north central Florida. Levy Prairie, one of the largest privately owned wetlands in the county, connects Barr Hammock, a majestic “land bridge” to Ledwith Prairie, another large wetland located to the south of Barr Hammock. Levy Prairie is also connected to the 21,000-acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

Levy Prairie features a variety of natural communities, including freshwater marshes, a black water stream, wet prairie, hardwood swamp, pine flatwoods, and open water, and contains habitat supports a variety of threatened and endangered species, such as sandhill cranes, wood storks, and bald eagles.

Archaeological evidence in the proposed area encompasses several recognized historic cultures, including the Alachua period and nineteenth century American. The property may also contain a portion of William Bartram’s 1774 route from his camp at Cuscowilla (now the Town of Micanopy) to the Suwannee River.

The proposed Levy Prairie project will restore and enhance native plant communities through plantings, control of invasive exotic species, and prescribed fire. The Natural Resource Conservation Service Wetlands Reserve Program, in conjunction with Ducks Unlimited, are developing a restoration plan to restore natural water flows on approximately 1,100 acres of the project area. Acquisition will protect and enhance the long-term quality of public water supplies by removing agricultural sources of contamination from the Floridan aquifer.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service Wetlands Reserve Program holds a perpetual conservation easement on 3,052 acres of the project area. Alachua County seeks to purchase the remainder interest in Levy Prairie to (a) enhance resource protection and ecological management; and (b) protect the property beyond that afforded by the NRCS easement; and (c) create enhanced recreational opportunities. This is accomplished by placing the remainder interest, currently in private ownership, into public conservation ownership and management.

Purchase of Levy Prairie will not only enhance ecological connectivity through a unified management plan, but also greatly simplify and expedite public access and enjoyment by providing enhanced recreational opportunities to the entire Barr Hammock Preserve and Levy Prairie area.

Over one-half mile of trails on the Still Branch parcel of the Levy Prairie project site will directly connect to over 14 miles of existing trails on the Barr Hammock Preserve. An additional four miles of trails on Levy Prairie will create over 18 miles of trails. Most importantly, the Levy Prairie project will connect the east and west sections of Barr Hammock, which are separated by the privately owned 75-acre Still Branch parcel. This project would there- fore unite the divided portions of Barr Hammock, and connect the entire project directly to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

This project promotes a cooperative relationship between a federal agency, a local government, and several non-profit organizations to restore and protect wildlife habitat and a regionally significant wetland.

The project is located within an area proposed to be the “Alachua County Bald Eagle Reserve,” which has one of the greatest concentrations of bald eagle nests in Florida. Based on 2006 data, there are approximately 43 eagle nests in the proposed Alachua County Eagle Reserve Area that are currently active or were active since 2002 out of a total of 59 nests in the county. The Bald Eagle Reserve would create higher protection standards than the state and federal regulations in Alachua County’s comprehensive plan.

The proposed Levy Prairie project has drawn strong community-based support and received letters from 22 organizations including a letter from Donald V. Forgione, Chief of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Parks District 2. Mr. Forgione writes: “The shallow prairie systems of southern Alachua County are karst solution features that usually maintain direct connections to the Floridan Aquifer, the main source of drinking water for the region. Protection of these wetlands is critical, not only for the flora and fauna that inhabit them, but for our own well-being.”

Additional letters of support were received from State Senator Steve Oelrich, State Representative Charles Chestnut, III, the Alachua County Historical Commission, the Micanopy Historical Society, the Town of Micanopy, Alachua Conservation Trust, the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, Women for Wise Growth, The Bartram Trail Conference, and others.

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