Cabinet approves purchase of 365 acres in Marion County

The Conservation Trust for Florida announced today a second land conservation victory in Marion County. Thanks to today’s approval by Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, 465 acres in Ocala will be acquired with funding from the Florida Forever program.

The site, known as Silver Springs Sandhill, will be purchased by the state and managed by Marion County Parks and Recreation. The application to Florida Forever was submitted by Marion County.

In January, the Conservation Trust for Florida finalized negotiations and signed a purchase option with the multiple owners of the Silver Springs Sandhill site, which was slated to be developed with 1600 housing units. The option will now be assigned to the state and the purchase will be completed later this year. In 2015, the land trust negotiated a similar deal with Rayonier and the St. John’s River Water Management District to protect the 4,900-acre Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area in Marion County.

Silver Springs Sandhill is a crucial piece of Central Florida’s larger conservation puzzle. The property adds to a protective buffer around the iconic Silver Springs — one of the largest artesian spring systems in the world. The property also connects to Indian Lake State Forest and Marion County’s Coehadjoe Park.

As its name implies, the property’s soil is sandy, making it an excellent aquifer recharge site. In addition to benefiting water quality and quantity, the site will offer public recreation opportunities and contribute to Ocala’s growing popularity as an ecotourism destination.

Central Florida is becoming one of Florida’s largest conservation hubs, where an estimated 500,000 acres of connected, publicly-owned conservation lands entice visitors and protect springs, rivers, groundwater and wildlife.

Lisa Gearen, president of the Conservation Trust for Florida’s board of directors said, “This is exactly the kind of project that we love. It brings together partners around a common goal and truly enhances the conservation value of surrounding lands. It’s exciting to be part of this success and partner with local government. We expect to be doing more of that in the future.”