465-acre property fills conservation gap in Ocala

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Sept. 19, 2017 — The Conservation Trust for Florida, a leader in statewide conservation, announced the closing of the 465-acre Silver Springs Sandhill project in Ocala.

“This is the last large undeveloped property located in Silver Springs and was entitled for over 1,800 homes,”
said John Rudnianyn, real estate broker and part owner of the property.

“Originally the brainchild of Stan McClain, then chairman of the Marion County Commission and now a state representative, the purchase was masterfully negotiated and coordinated by the Conservation Trust for Florida and presented as the Silver Springs Sandhill project by Jim Couillard, Marion County Parks Director. This was indeed a public/private effort by Marion County Commissioners, Conservation Trust for Florida, The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and three landowners who felt the benefit to Silver Springs and recreation opportunities for Marion County residents far outweighed the allure of developing homes less than a mile from the main spring,” Rudnianyn explained.

In January, the Conservation Trust for Florida finalized negotiations and signed a purchase option with the multiple owners of the Silver Springs Sandhill site. In 2015, the land trust negotiated a similar deal with Rayonier and the St. Johns River Water Management District to protect the 4,900-acre Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area in Marion County.

“We are very proud of our work in the Silver Springs watershed,” said Lisa Gearen, president of the Conservation Trust for Florida. “We appreciate the partnerships with Marion County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that made this project possible, and it complements the conservation and recreation value of the adjacent 4,900-acre Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area, a CTF project completed in 2015 with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Projects that protect the health of Florida’s springs are among our highest priorities, and we look forward to future projects in the region.”

“Marion County is thrilled that this acquisition project has now been completed,” said Carl Zalak III, Chairman of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. “We are grateful for the state’s decision to acquire this 465-acre area and look forward to managing the site in alignment with the county’s springs protection goals and our vision for an ever-growing outdoor recreation program.”

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.

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.

The property was acquired with funding from the Florida Forever program.

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