Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Save Our Parks

UPDATE, Aug. 27, 3:30pm: The Gainesville City Commission received an email today from the developer, withdrawing his offer to purchase the 5 acres of Loblolly Woods. There will be no sale of this public park land! Thanks to the many people who voiced their opinion and stood up for conservation!

This weekend I joined about 70 other people on a walk to tour a piece of property in the Loblolly Woods of NW Gainesville. The purpose of the tour was to rally support and familiarize people with 5 acres of public conservation land that a private real estate developer is trying to buy from the city. (I'm not using the developer's name because I don't believe this is about the person. Rather, I think this is about the bigger issue of selling public property and the dangerous precedent it sets.) The property is part of the much larger Loblolly Woods city nature park and preserve, and it butts up to the developer's home property. He says that he wants to purchase the land to provide more buffer around his home, and says that he plans to preserve the land. In exchange, he proposes to give the city one million dollars. We were there in the woods to see why this would be a bad idea.
Supporters Hiking in
We were led on the walk through the woods by a UF Biologist and by neighbors whose homes are next to the property in question. We learned that the property provides the only eastern access to the greater Loblolly Woods city nature park. If the purchase is made, roads and paths will be closed to the public. The entrance is popular with walkers, hikers, runners, bikers and children walking to school.
East Entrance
We learned about the kinds of trees and plants in the landscape and saw how the slight elevation changes there make it a unique habitat for both wetlands and uplands plants. We learned that the land is ecologically sensitive. It is home to rare and endangered plants and is part of a wetlands floodplain. It was acquired by the City in the first place because it was determined that there was good reason to protect it. We saw examples of escaped exotic invasive plants from neighboring homes and from the urban creek system that runs through the woods and were reminded that the land needs continued, careful stewardship. Large amounts of money and time have already been spent by the City evaluating and maintaining the property.
The Woods
The people came with children, friends, cameras and dogs on leashes. The children explored and relished in the wonder of the wild places. They lifted logs and peeked into stumps and found spiders and snakes and caterpillars. (Hiking hint: if you want to see the coolest things, follow the kids. They know how to look!)
Florida Redbelly Snake

Saddleback Caterpillar

Our leader pointed out different types of trees--Maple, Sugarberry, Box Elder, Water Oak, Dogwood and Sable Palm, to name just a few. The landscape is diverse. I was at the tail end of the crowd, so I missed much of his discussion, but the group was kindly helpful and would share interesting information down the line.

Sugarberry Tree

Maples, Palms and Sugarberries
The group stopped in admiration to look at the rare and endangered Godfrey's Privet , the interesting Green Dragon, and the vivid Hearts a Bustin'. We listened to bugs and birds and each other. We also heard the loud and upset dogs on the developer's property, barking from behind their tall fence at our intrusion into their territory.
Godfrey's Privet (Forestriera godfreyi)

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium)

Heart's a Bustin' (Euonymus americanus)
I've written about this in previous blog posts, but I believe that public land belongs to the people and must not just be sold off to the highest bidder. Contrary to what some might say, we do not have too much land in conservation--indeed, there is not nearly enough. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the leading cause of species decline and extinction. Carving it away in 5 acre pieces does not help. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants all need a large and healthy habitat. These woods provide places for animals to find shelter, food, and raise their young. They are critical resting spots for migrating birds. The wetlands filter water as it makes its way through the landscape and into our aquifer. The trees give us oxygen and filter our air. The green space gives us peaceful sanctuary. We need to preserve our natural places.

Green Sanctuary
This land is not even for sale. This person has approached the City of Gainesville and made an offer on a piece of land, just because he wants it. He is waving a million dollars in the face of the City at a time when money is scarce. He has also made the red herring suggestion that the money could be spent to purchase another desirable piece of property nearby that is also ecologically important. But this property is also not for sale and has nothing to do with the purchase of this particular 5 acres, except that hinting that it could be purchased with the sale money pits groups of people who want to conserve land against each other.
Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly
The developer's thinking about this completely backwards. His home is next door to a City nature park and preserve. He already has a buffer! And he already owns the land! We all do. The problem is that he want to possess the land and fence it off for himself and keep the rest of us away, and that's just not fair. It doesn't contribute to the common good.
Turkey Tail Fungi
The Gainesville City Commission will be discussing this issue at their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5 (exact time yet to be determined). Please consider attending the meeting. You don't have to speak, although if you want to, it would be welcome. But just show up to let them know that we don't want them to sell our public lands. Wear green as a sign of support. If you can't show up, write a letter (CityComm@cityofgainesville.org). (For more information go to http://saveloblollywoods.org) But do something. This really matters. Our Parks are counting on us.
UPDATE, Aug. 27, 3:30pm: The Gainesville City Commission received an email today from the developer, withdrawing his offer to purchase the 5 acres of Loblolly Woods. There will be no sale of this public park land! Thanks to the many people who voiced their opinion and stood up for conservation!

Denizen of the Forest (Praying Mantis)


  1. As to not identifying the arrogant rich person who is trying to buy and privatize public land that is not even for sale:

    “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” --Utah Phillips.

    1. Ouch. True. Utah Phillips didn't hold much back. My feeling is that it's really tempting to demonize public figure. Especially a developer. When you read the comments about this online, they start getting personal and nasty pretty fast, and I think it is a waste of time and divides the public. I wanted to steer the conversation towards the bigger issue of who owns public land. You could cut and paste this scenario into natural places all over the country. Is public land just an unclaimed resource out there waiting to be "discovered", owned and exploited by people with power and money, or is it a precious piece of our national heritage? But point well taken.

  2. Today the Gainesville City Commission received an email from the developer withdrawing his proposal to try to buy the 5 acres of Loblolly. In short, the land will remain as is and there will be no sale.
    Susan Bottcher
    Commissioner,District 3
    City of Gainesville

    1. Dear Commissioner Bottcher,
      This is such good news! Thank you for letting me know. I have updated my blog to reflect this information.
      Katherine Edison

  3. I'd love to see a Saddleback Caterpillar in person.

    1. It really was a thrill for me to see it. If you ever do see one, be sure not to touch it. Evil stinging spines! Thanks for reading!