Audubon Florida helped Alachua Audubon win an important decision at the Alachua County Commission Tuesday, October 28, protecting an important piece of conservation land. The 5,719-acre Barr Hammock Preserve was bought between 2006 & 2010 by the Florida Forever, Communities Trust Program and Alachua County for preservation and passive nature based recreation.
The main feature of the preserve, a trail on a levee around Levy marsh, was opened allowing the public to view this important bird habitat. This spot is considered one of the best bird watching opportunities in the county. After the trail opened, some adjacent residents with homes several hundred feet from the trail complained that trail users were interrupting their privacy. Even though the trail is hundreds of feet away from their homes, and generally screened by heavy vegetation, they claimed that trail users were making noise and were able to look into the windows of their homes.
County staff responsible for managing the Barr Hammock Preserve and the trail investigated the complaints, and found them not meritorious of any action. The residents took their complaints to the County Commission and were able to get the commission to hold two lengthy discussions of the issue. At one point, some of the commissioners seemed leaning toward supporting the residents’ demands that a portion of the trail be closed. The Alachua Audubon Society got to work, and obtained several newspaper articles, and an excellent editorial in the Gainesville Sun newspaper urging that the commission honor the original purpose of purchasing the preserve by keeping the trail open. Alachua Audubon also motivated dozens of members to turn out at the county commission meetings.
On October 28, following a two hour discussion and unsuccessful attempts by two commissioners to discourage public use of part of the trail with confusing signage and entrance features, the commission ended up unanimously voting to stick with the preserve’s original management plan and keep the trail open. Special thanks to Alachua County Commissioners Mike Byerly and Hutch Hutchinson who steadfastly argued to keep Barr Hammock fully open to the natural resource based recreation uses it was intended to facilitate.
This case demonstrates why Audubon Florida and all Audubon chapters must be forever vigilant against attempts to harm and degrade Florida’s important conservation lands.
For additional coverage from the Gainesville Sun, please click here.