Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Massive restoration of headwaters of the St. Johns River is completed.
Cost-share program helps farmers innovate and conserve water.
2016 marks a decade of work in the St. Johns River’s lower basin.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson makes remarks prior to the ribbon-cutting at the event in May.
Property protects springs, expands public recreation
Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area is newest district property
Nearly 100 hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders kicked off the Memorial Day weekend by getting their first look at the new Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area in Marion County. The St. Johns River Water Management District and its funding partners held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the property on May 27.
“In a state with more than 20 million residents and more than 100 million visitors each year, it is important to provide opportunities for public recreation in a way that is compatible with water resource and springs protection,” St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle said. “I applaud our partners, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), The Conservation Trust for Florida (CTF) and the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, for being part of this wonderful project to link thousands of acres of public lands, offer greater recreational opportunities and protect Silver Springs and the Silver River.”
District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle visits with some of the public who attended the grand opening at Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area.
“DEP is committed to working with our partners at the water management districts and stakeholder groups like The Conservation Trust for Florida to protect and restore springs for our future generations,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “Thanks to the continued support of Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature, we will be able to continue to invest in beneficial projects — like this acquisition — for many years to come.”
The forest contains important water resources that support the valuable recreational and biological functions of the Ocklawaha River, Silver River and Silver Springs. The acquisition protects the headwaters of Half Mile Creek and an unnamed tributary that flow into the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers, which are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters. The tract includes 378 acres of wetlands along these two creeks.
Other benefits of the property include reducing nitrate loading into springs and rivers, allowing for hydrologic restoration that will result in water quality improvement, and creating opportunities for water storage. The property also contributes to an eight-mile buffer zone where forests “capture” rainwater to recharge the aquifer and augment the springs’ flow.
“The protection of this forest is one of the greatest conservation success stories in Florida’s history,” said Susan Carr, executive director of The Conservation Trust for Florida. “It is the result of creative collaboration between public and private sectors that offers tremendous benefits for Floridians and wildlife.”
The tract is adjacent to thousands of acres of public lands and links Indian Lake State Forest, Silver Springs State Park, the Cross Florida Greenway and district-managed lands to the Ocala National Forest.
The Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area offers nearly 12.5 additional miles of blazed trails to its visitors. The property offers three trailheads — two smaller trailheads for hikers and bicyclists, and a third trailhead predominantly for equestrian use.
A barred owl at Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area.
The equestrian trailhead is located on County Road 35 near the Indian Lake State Forest equestrian parking area. The proximity of the two equestrian trailheads allows overflow parking and the potential to connect the two trail systems for additional and longer trail opportunities.
“As both a district Governing Board member and a resident of Marion County, the purchase of Silver Springs Forest is a very special opportunity,” said district Board Vice Chairman Fred Roberts Jr. of Ocala. “Through this acquisition, we are able to conserve and expand the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Marion County. Linking these thousands of acres of public lands creates a 20-mile ecological greenway that will increase public recreational opportunities and enhance the area’s wildlife habitat.”
Jim Karels, Florida State Forester, agreed, saying, “By conserving these forestlands, we are providing a long-term solution to help restore and protect the valuable natural resources of the Silver Springs area.”
The district, DEP and CTF partnered on the purchase from Rayonier, Inc., and the district took ownership of the property on Dec. 10, 2015. Funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy Program also contributed to the purchase. The Forest Legacy Program is a joint federal and state government initiative with the goal of promoting sustainable forestry practices, and protecting natural, cultural and recreational resources.
For information about the property, visit the district’s website at "www.sjrwmd.com/recreationguide/silverspringsforest.