Mike Singer, Conservation Land Specialist, gave a presentation to the Board of County Commissioners regarding environmentally sensitive land preserves and an update on the Sensitive Lands Program.
The mission of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands program is to preserve the county’s natural, cultural, and scenic resources, while enhancing the quality of life for present and future generations. The program was established in 1988 through voter referendum and that was to acquire managed properties in Hernando County. The program is determined to provide environmental benefits such as water quality, water recharge areas, preservation and restoration of sensitive habitats, habitats with protected wildlife. Another goal is to provide nature based activities that are compatible with the property. All the properties the county has within the ESL program are accessible to the public in one form or another.
Through that voter referendum it was determined to collect 0.10 millage for acquisition and management of sensitive lands, for a 30 year term. The millage was collected until 2011 for the Sensitive Lands Program. That’s now expired and acquisitions are no longer being actively made. (Though Mud Springs preserve is an exception as it is pending acquisition.)
In 2019, the Sensitive Lands Program was moved into the general fund and the ESL fund no longer exists. There are three preserves that were purchased utilizing the ESL fund out of the five preserves in the current program. Of those five, there are two properties that are parks and the county provides management and assistance at those: Lake Townsen and Linda Pederson Jenkins Creek. During the recession they were incorporated into the Sensitive Lands Program because they met the Sensitive Lands Criteria and that was simply to be able to fund the parks. The ESL funds were used to fund both parks. Yet by incorporating those into the ELS program, the county also changed the zoning, as well as the land use and conservation of those properties. Currently no funding is going to those.
The preserves in the ESL program are:
Fickett Hammock Preserve
Chinsegut Hill – owned by the state but the county holds a long time lease at the property
Lake Townsen Preserve and Park
Cypress Lake Preserve
Peck Sink Preserve
Linda Pederson Jenkins Creek
Mud Springs (pending acquisition)
Cypress Lake Preserve is 331 acres and is located in Ridge Manor. The primary access to this property is on the right-of-way of Ridge Manor Blvd. It was the first property acquired in the program in 1994 with Matching Grant Funding from Florida Communities Trust (FCT). A part of the grant, special management conditions had to be met which include; site management, public access and passive recreation amenities. One of the primary resources for management here is prescribed fire. Singer explained that they do this on a three year rotation between treating different areas of the preserve. The park also has and protects critical Florida wildlife and habitats. The preserve contains 1.5 miles of the Florida Trail, which runs from the Everglades to the Panhandle.
Fickett Hammock Preserve is 155 acres and is located in Brooksville. The property was acquired in 1994 using the ESL funds. This property is part of the greater Annutteliga Hammock Preserve; different agencies manage different parts of the Hammock preserve. Fickett Hammock is the most used preserve in the program. This park is home to endangered plant and animal species. To read a little more on this preserve and see a few pictures, check out a previous article here: https://rb.gy/sydtvk
Peck Sink Preserve is 112 acres and is located in Brooksville. This property was acquired through two acquisitions; one in 2006 (82 acres), using Sensitive Lands Funds and the other in 2008 (30 acres), using legislature funding through DEP and the South West Florida Management District. It was purchased for groundwater protection, because there is an active sink on the property. The watershed area is around 11000 acres and all the surface water from those areas drains into Peck Sink. A program was launched not too long ago to give public access to the preserve. They approved acceptance of a grant from DEP from the Recreational Trails Program and are currently under an environmental review (NIPA). A cultural resource study was conducted and that will be submitted at the end of this month to DEP and to the federal government. Once that is approved, Singer says the county should receive notice to proceed with their program of providing public access to Peck Sink. It’s currently only accessible by appointment, to do that you can contact Mike Singer through the planning department. There is a water treatment facility on the property which are two storm water basins that divert water, collect trash, extract excess nutrients by utilizing vegetation planted in the water, then return the water to the canal that leads to the aquifer.
Lake Townsen Preserve is 375 acres and is located in Brooksville. It was initially donated to the county through the Department of the Interior for public recreation and access, to be made an environmental park. It joined the program in 2011. The HC Parks and Recreation Department manages the park site and the Waterways Department manages the boat ramp. A Gopher Tortoise Recipient Site is being constructed on the property, for the relocation of gopher tortoises from other county projects. Here they are also doing a bird survey, seeing bird diversity across the property.
Chinsegut Hill is 114 acres and is located in Brooksville. The county holds a 50 year lease with the Florida Department of State for management of the property. The role of the Sensitive Lands Program role is managing the natural areas or areas surrounding the house. There are 66 invasive species of plants at this site so management is difficult. To do that the ESL has a 15 year Memorandum of Agreement with Florida Forest Service. All work here is focused on managing the invasive plant species.
Mud Springs is pending acquisition, and is 38 acres located in Weeki Wachee. That will be purchased through the Florida Board of Trustees using Florida Forever Magnitude Springs Funding Acquisition. Any potential uses of the property will be vetted through a stakeholder process.