Florida Forever

Natural communities within the Garcon Ecosystem (Santa Rosa County) project include wet prairie, estuarine tidal marsh and wet flatwoods. The prairie community is species-rich and includes orchids and insectivorous plants such as pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts.  Photo by Laurie Meehan-Elmer - selected for 2011 Florida Forever Calendar.

Natural communities within the Garcon Ecosystem (Santa Rosa County) project include wet prairie, estuarine tidal marsh and wet flatwoods. The prairie community is species-rich and includes orchids and insectivorous plants such as pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. Photo by Laurie Meehan-Elmer – selected for 2011 Florida Forever Calendar.

An investment in Florida’s Future

Florida Forever has been preserving natural Florida for more than two decades. Since 1990, more than 2.4 million acres of land have been preserved throughout the state by Preservation 2000 and the Florida Forever Programs. More than a million acres of sensitive land and water are still in desperate need of protection.

Some of the state’s best conservation photographers have  focussed on lands slated for protection through the Florida Forever program, and we share some images here, as well as on our Missing Links page.

Although the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” remains true, these images also demonstrate the significance of the proposed acquisitions beyond words. They engender emotional responses. Through these connections, the images help Floridians understand the value of conserving and protecting natural resources. Beyond the scientific and environmental relevance of land preservation, the images prove the aesthetic value of these resources—their fundamental beauty, curious native species, and visual diversities.

Now, more than ever, our support of the Florida Forever Program is essential. The economic downturn has seriously impacted funding for the program. Only continued public insistence will ensure that Florida Forever continues to do its job for all of us and the generations to come.

January 2012

Carlton Ward — Lake Wales Ridge in Lake, Osceola, Polk, and Highlands counties

Stretching from Orlando to Lake Okeechobee, the Lake Wales Ridge is a unique desert-like habitat topped by a “scrub” forest that sustains one of the largest collections of rare organisms found anywhere in the world. Due to extensive development, very little of the original Ridge remains. It is the oldest of Florida’s upland ecosystems and hosts the highest concentration of endemic plants and animals which are particularly vulnerable to extinction. Panthers, bears and bobcats (as in this picture) rely on the Ridge. In addition to conserving the best remaining unprotected ancient scrub, the project includes lakefront, swamps, black water streams, pine flatwoods, seepage slopes, hammocks and sandhills.

February 2012

Mac Stone — Green Swamp in Polk and Lake counties

Known for its dense cypress sloughs, wetlands and lush pine forests, the Green Swamp has been designated as an Area of Critical State Concern because it encompasses the headwaters of the Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, Hillsborough, and Peace Rivers and it is vital to central Florida’s water supply. It boasts the highest groundwater elevation in the peninsula and provides crucial recharge areas for the Floridan Aquifer. The project could offer expanded hunting opportunities, and add state park lands to the rapidly developing region between Tampa and Orlando. It would also help to complete the Florida National Scenic Trail.

March 2012

David Moynahan — Middle Chipola River in Jackson and Calhoun counties

As it flows through the rural landscapes of north Florida, the Chipola River exposes striking limestone bedrock which created geological formations like those celebrated in the adjacent Florida Caverns State Park and the spring pictured here. The proposed property in Jackson and Calhoun Counties includes 30 miles of this 92-mile tributary of the Apalachicola River, and features high river banks. Protection will safeguard unique remnants of hardwood forests and water quality. The project will ensure public access to the river while sustaining habitat for rare plants and endangered animals—from mussels and turtles to cave-dwelling crayfish. It may also help complete the Florida National Scenic Trail.

April 2012

Jason Hahn — Charlotte Harbor Estuary in Charlotte, Lee, and Sarasota counties

The Charlotte Harbor Estuary is a combination of three major Florida Forever projects: the Myakka River Estuary, the Cape Haze/Charlotte Harbor project, and the Charlotte Harbor project. As one of the largest and most productive estuaries in Florida, Charlotte Harbor supports an important recreational and commercial fishery that is threatened by urban development. By conserving the property’s flatwoods, scrub and prairies that are connected to the harbor, the water quality of the mangrove swamps and salt marshes is also protected. The project includes essential habitat for magnificent wildlife like the sandhill cranes pictured here, as well as bald eagles, scrub jays and manatees.

May 2012

John Moran — Heather Island/Ocklawaha River Marion County

With its strategic location between Silver River State Park, Ocala National Forest, and Indian River State Forest, the principal purpose for this proposal is to preserve wildlife habitat. The property’s mosaic of upland and high quality wetlands will enhance strategic wildlife corridors and afford adequate habitat for rare animal and plant species like the Florida black bear and the pink root plant. Beyond protecting and restoring the floodplain and the adjacent upland forests along the Oklawaha River, the property borders the Cross Florida Greenway Recreation and Conservation Area and may also help complete the Florida National Scenic Trail.

June 2012

Jim Valentine — Archie Carr Sea Turtle Refuge in Brevard and Indian River counties

This 20-mile stretch of Atlantic beach in Brevard and Indian River counties is the second most significant nesting area of Loggerhead sea turtles in the world. While turtle nesting occurs from Texas to Virginia, this small area offers critical nesting habitat for endangered turtles such as the green turtle and leatherback which require little to no artificial light for their continued reproductive success. Natural communities along the project site consist of beach, coastal strand and maritime hammock—but the main focus is the turtlenesting habitat. Intense pressure from commercial and residential developers makes this site a critical concern for conservation efforts.

July 2012

Clyde Butcher — Devil’s Garden in Hendry and Collier counties

The Devil’s Garden project site in Hendry and Collier counties is comprised primarily of ranch lands that afford important wildlife corridors for rare animals like the Florida panther and Florida black bear. Nonforested wetlands, including basin and depression marsh, swale and wet prairie make up the dominant natural communities with a scattering of upland prairie hammock and cypress domes. Nearly 85 percent of the 18-mile long by 6-mile wide property borders the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest which affords an additional zone of protection for its plants and animals. Known as a bird-lovers paradise, the normally rare snail kite thrives there, along with sandhill cranes, ibis, limpkins, roseate spoonbills and bald eagles

August 2012

Eric Zamora — Santa Fe River Preserve Alachua County

Florida Forever funds are annually allocated through the Florida Communities Trust to allow local governments and non-profits to preserve conservation lands. This project, in collaboration with the Alachua Conservation Trust and private donors, will preserve 95-acres where the Santa Fe River and Santa Fe Creek converge. Some of the state’s largest river birch trees are located on the property. The site also includes the middle seven miles of a proposed 17-mile Rail Trail that would connect the City of Alachua to the City of Lake Butler in Union County. The preserve will be managed by the Alachua Conservation Trust and offer paddling, fishing, and hiking—along with picnic areas and environmental education classes.

September 2012

Kevin Barry — Lake Hatchineha in Osceola and Polk counties

Located in the central Florida region this project would protect over 4,500 acres of surface waters and close to 800 acres of essential groundwater recharge areas. Consisting of three separate parcels of land north of Lake Hatchineha (pronounced “hatch-n-haw”) in Osceola and Polk Counties, the project would preserve a unique continuum of natural communities including high scrub, marsh, floodplain, lakeshore and blackwater streams that host rare species like bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, and the Florida scrub-jay. The project may allow hunting, recreation, and grazing opportunities, and may also help complete the Florida National Scenic Trail.

October 2012

Daniel Ewert — Shoal River Buffer Okaloosa County

The Shoal River in northwest Florida flows through natural communities including upland hardwood forests, sandhills, wet flatwoods, floodplain forests, basin swamps, and blackwater streams. The proposed river buffer encompasses 2,062 acres of ecological greenways, 1,419 acres of surface waters, and 1,443 acres of functional wetlands. It supports endangered animals like Florida black bears and alligator snapping turtles, and rare flora including sweet pitcher plants, and hairy indigos. While ensuring the river’s water quality it will also protect the Sand and Gravel Aquifer, which provides water for this rapidly-growing region which faces water supply and water quality issues.

November 2012

Will Dickey — Pumpkin Hill Creek Duval County

Because Jacksonville has grown into the largest city in Florida in terms of both population and land area, the amount of natural lands in Duval County has been greatly reduced. The proposed project will ensure preservation of the upland buffer to the Nassau River and the St. Johns River Marshes Aquatic Preserve. The project contains nearly pristine maritime hammock, along with scrubby and wet flatwoods, estuarine and marine grasslands, and the “Sea Islands” usually associated with southern Georgia. This photo of Round Marsh is part of the Pumpkin Hill Creek Ecosystem that provides the foundation of an important fishery, sustains habitat for endangered species, and supports two colonial wading bird rookeries.

December 2012

Chad Anderson — Belle Meade Collier County

Although Collier County is one of the nation’s fastest developing areas, some of its most extensive oldgrowth wet flatwoods and undisturbed subtropical dwarf cypress savannah communities can still be found. The proposed project will protect habitat for songbirds—such as this cardinal—as well as at least 20 rare and endangered animals including the Florida panther, red-cockaded woodpecker and Florida black bear. It will link Collier-Seminole State Park to Picayune Strand State Forest. It is also part of the watershed that determines the health of the Rookery Bay estuary—one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America.

January 2011

Jeff Ripple — Panther Glades (Hendry County)

The Panther Glades project is important to many wildlife species that require extensive areas of habitat to maintain viable populations, particularly the Florida panther and Florida black bear. This project forms a connection between Devil's Garden, Half Circle L Ranch and Save Our Everglades Florida Forever projects with the Okalocacoochee Slough State Forest and the Big Cypress National Preserve. This large landscape and watershed in south-central Hendry County would provide important habitat for many species including the Eastern indigo snake, bald eagle and Florida sandhill crane. (Pictured: dwarf bald cypress, Taxodium distichum)

February 2011

Eric Zamora — Georgetown Waterfront Park (Hillsborough County)

The Florida Communities Trust (FCT) Parks and Open Spaces Program provides money each year in Florida Forever funds to local governments and non-profits for community-based parks, open spaces and greenways. Applications far exceed the funds available. One property that could potentially receive funding is the Georgetown Waterfront Park in south Tampa. This 82-acre property offers sweeping views of Tampa Bay, a placid lagoon teeming with fish and a white sand beach perfect for sunbathing and bird watching. If acquired, the Georgetown site will provide open space and water access for countless nearby residents and recreationists.

March 2011

John Moran — Pinhook Swamp (Baker and Columbia counties)

The Suwannee River flows through pine plantations and farms for much of its course. Only its high limestone banks remain close to a natural state, and they are prime sites for residential development. The Deep Creek site will protect two natural areas along the river, including the tallest waterfall in the peninsula and the highest bluffs on the river. The pine flatwoods and swamps between the Osceola National Forest and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge were historically logged but are otherwise undisturbed. The Pinhook Swamp project will protect and restore a natural area linking these two conservation lands and the Suwannee River, providing a huge unpopulated tract of land for such wildlife as the Florida black bear.

April 2011

Laurie Meehan-Elmer — Garcon Ecosystem (Santa Rosa County)

Natural communities within this project include wet prairie, estuarine tidal marsh and wet flatwoods. The prairie community is species-rich and includes orchids and insectivorous plants such as pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. Especially significant is the large population of state endangered white-topped pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) and the globally imperiled panhandle lily. The tracts are also habitat for the flatwoods salamander, a candidate for federal listing. The sensitive prairies are threatened by ditching, plant collecting and residential development. Development pressure will increase when the bridge across Pensacola Bay is completed. (Pictured: White-topped pitcher plants, Sarracenia leucophylla, yellow pitcher plants, Sarracenia flava, and Tracy's sundew, Drosera tracyi, carnivorous plants).

May 2011

Mac Stone — North Key Largo Hammocks (Monroe County)

The West Indian hardwood forest of the Florida Keys, unique in the United States, is shrinking as development intensifies. The North Key Largo Hammocks project will protect the largest remaining stand of this forest, with its many tropical plants and rare animals. It will also influence the preservation of the irreplaceable coral reef in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary from the effects of uncontrolled development, and conserve an area where the public can enjoy the original landscape of these subtropical islands. (Pictured: Biologists release the stock island tree snail, Orthalicus reses, to increase the endangered species' numbers.)

June 2011

Jim Valentine — Sand Mountain (Washington and Bay counties)

Until the early part of this century, the country north of St. Andrews Bay was a high longleafpine sandhill interrupted by depressions holding shallow sand-bottom lakes. The lakes still pock the area, but pine plantations and residential developments have replaced most of the sandhill. The Sand Mountain project will conserve and restore one of the largest tracts of sandhill in the Florida panhandle, protect the watersheds of the lakes and of Econfina Creek, maintain habitat critical to the survival of several rare plants that grow only around these lakes, and provide a large scenic area where the public can enjoy many recreational activities. (Pictured: Econfina Creek and flowering mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia)

July 2011

Clyde Butcher — Apalachicola River (Jackson, Gadsden, Liberty and Calhoun counties)

The high plateaus, steep bluffs and deep ravines of the northern Apalachicola River valley are some of the most significant natural features of the southeastern Coastal Plain. Covered with rich forests and dotted with unique sedge glades, the area harbors many northern, rare and endemic plants and animals, such as the nearly extinct Florida Torreya tree. By connecting Torreya State Park with a Nature Conservancy preserve to the south, and by protecting forests on the river's west bank, the Apalachicola River project will help preserve the water quality of the river. It will also help protect the unique species and biological communities of the region, as well as provide the public with scenic areas for recreation.

August 2011

Judd Patterson — Kissimmee-St. John's River Connector (Okeechobee and Indian River counties)

This project provides a habitat and hydrologic connection between the Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area to the east, and the Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve and the Ordway-Whittell Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary to the west. This area is important habitat for the grasshopper sparrow, sandhill crane, mottled duck, wood stork, crested caracara and numerous other wildlife species. Acquisition of the project meets Florida Forever goals of increasing protection of Florida's biodiversity, protecting and restoring the natural functions of land, and increasing natural resource-based public recreation. The Florida National Scenic Trail, a statewide non-motorized trail, crosses a number of Florida Forever project sites, including this one. (Pictured: Catesby's lily, Lilium catesbaei, North America's largest lily.)

September 2011

David Moynahan — Dickerson Bay/Bald Point (Wakulla and Franklin counties)

On the coast of Wakulla and Franklin Counties, the shallow, waveless Gulf of Mexico laps against the western-most Big Bend salt marshes and the eastern-most white sand beaches of the Panhandle. The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge already protects much of this coast; the Dickerson Bay/Bald Point project will protect more, including areas critical to the survival of the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. Doing so will also protect fisheries in the area by protecting its foundation — rich mud flats and seagrass beds — and will add land to Mashes Sands County Park where people can enjoy the beauty of this little-disturbed coast. (Pictured: Black skimmers, Rynchops niger, at Mashes Sands)

October 2011

Chad Anderson — Dade County Archipelago (Miami-Dade County)

Subtropical pinelands and hardwood hammocks that are unique in the United States used to stand on a limestone ridge east of the Everglades where Miami, Homestead and surrounding farms now dominate the landscape. Now only tiny pieces of these forests remain, the best of which the Dade County Archipelago project will protect. This project conserves habitat for rare animals and dozens of rare plants, many found nowhere else in the world. These lands provide opportunities for residents and visitors to learn about and appreciate what was here before urban development. (Pictured: The pineland croton, Croton linearis, is the sole host plant and almost the exclusive nectar source for the Bartram's hairstreak, Strymon acis bartrami.)

November 2011

Will Dickey — Northeast Florida Timberlands and Watershed Reserve (Duval, Nassau and Clay counties)

This project overlays a northeast-southwest diagonal area along the west side of Duval County, stretching from the Nassau River north of Jacksonville to Trail Ridge in Clay County, near the town of Lawtey. Another section of the project makes a 12-mile north-south connection, between the Camp Blanding Military Reservation and the Etoniah Creek State Forest. About 75 percent of this land has been used for silviculture. With such a high level of disturbance and given the close proximity to Jacksonville, restoration and recreation are key objectives for this project. (Pictured: Pine forest)

December 2011

Carlton Ward Jr. — Hixtown Swamp (Madison County)

The complex of cypress swamps, marshes and ponds called Hixtown Swamp has been spared the intensive tree-farming practices of the surrounding uplands. The Hixtown Swamp project will conserve these swamps and marshes, protecting wading-bird rookeries and wildlife habitat as well as a possible Spanish mission site and other important archeological remains. Purchasing Hixtown Swamp will give the public a large area in which to hunt, hike or simply observe wildlife. Timber harvesting is currently the greatest threat to the area. (Pictured: Hixtown Swamp)

January 2010

Will Dickey — Baldwin Bay/St. Marys River (Duval and Nassau counties)

With close proximity to Jacksonville and access to the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Marys River sees its share of users, past and present. The purchase of the Baldwin Bay/St. Marys Florida Forever project will create greater potential for recreational opportunities on the river and in the surrounding forest, including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and photography. The project will connect the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail, which is key in helping equestrian access.

February 2010

Chad Anderson — Coupon Bight/Key Deer (Monroe County)

The subtropical pine forests in the lower Florida Keys contain some of the most unique and threatened habitat in the United States. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory documents 36 special plant species and 17 animal species here. Many are state or nationally listed as threatened or endangered, and some could go extinct if this area is further developed. The critically endangered Key deer (pictured) is the signature species in the area.

March 2010

John Moran — Georgetown Riverside Park (Putnam County)

The Florida Communities Trust Parks and Open Spaces Program provides $63 million each year in Florida Forever funds to local governments and non-profits for community-based parks, open spaces and greenways. Applications far exceed the funds available; in 2008 only 26 percent of the applicants were funded. One unfunded site was the proposed Georgetown Riverside Park, a 25-acre property on the St. Johns River in southeastern Putnam County. Acquiring the site would preserve access to the river for boating and fishing in an area with few public parks and serve as a trailhead for designated bicycling and paddling trails.

April 2010

Jeff Ripple — Indian River Lagoon Blueway (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties)

For good reason the Indian River Lagoon Blueway is one of Florida Forever's top 21 acquisition projects. Spread over five counties, this project area supports more than 100,000 registered saltwater anglers. While being recreationally important, the Indian River is home to the largest manatee population in the country and is vital to migratory birds and estuarine fishes. The Indian River Lagoon is a state aquatic preserve, an Outstanding Florida Water, an Estuary of National Significance, and home to the world's first national wildlife refuge — Pelican Island (pictured).

May 2010

James Shadle — Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem (Osceola, Lake, Highlands and Polk counties)

Stretching from Orlando to Lake Okeechobee, the Lake Wales Ridge is a unique desert-like habitat topped by a scrub “forest” that shelters one of the largest collections of rare organisms found nowhere else in the world. Only a small percentage of “natural” Lake Wales Ridge remains. It has been almost entirely converted to orange groves and housing developments. Many of its rare inhabitants will become extinct soon if this ecosystem is not protected. Florida Forever seeks to purchase what's left of the Lake Wales Ridge, not only to save the endemic wildlife but also to preserve this unique landscape for the enjoyment of recreationists.

June 2010

Eric Zamora — South Goethe (Levy County)

Goethe State Forest is an extremely valuable island of conserved land between protected areas in the Waccasassa watershed and Citrus County. Purchasing South Goethe, nearly 11,000 acres of restorable and intact habitat, will connect the Goethe State Forest to the Withlacoochee River, Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway and Lake Rousseau. Florida Forever's goal is to protect the Withlacoochee watershed by connecting Goethe to the Greenway, helping to preserve the Nature Coast wildlife corridor.

July 2010

David Moynahan — Seven Runs Creek (Walton County)

Florida Forever has worked closely with landowner, M.C. Davis, to create a conservation easement from the dry uplands and sandy ridges of Nokuse Plantation, hoping to add the adjacent 14,000-acre Seven Runs Creek to the less-than-fee acquisition. Instead of purchasing the land, a cooperative strategy of restoration is ongoing, using prescribed fire and the planting of more than 15,000 longleaf pines to bring back original habitat, remove invasive plants and re-introduce the state-listed gopher tortoise (pictured).

August 2010

Carlton Ward Jr. — Clay Ranch (Putnam County)

Comprising nearly one-fifth of Florida, cattle ranches are important to future conservation. In addition to their cultural and economic value, many ranches — such as the Clay Ranch in Putnam County —protect irreplaceable water resources and natural wildlife habitats. Due to its position between the Ocala and Osceola National Forests, conserving the Clay Ranch will help in creating the Ocala to Osceola (O2O) Wildlife Corridor, of particular benefit for wide-ranging mega-fauna such as the Florida black bear.

September 2010

Clyde Butcher — Fisheating Creek Ecosystem (Glades and Highlands counties)

Located in south-central Florida, Fisheating Creek is the only undammed tributary of Lake Okeechobee. The dry prairies and freshwater marshes within the project boundary are extremely important to help ensure the survival of the Florida panther and black bear. Several bird species also use this habitat, including: the American swallow-tailed kite, crested caracara, snail kite, grasshopper sparrow, sandhill crane, red-cockaded woodpecker and short-tailed hawk.

October 2010

Mac Stone — St. Johns River Blueway (St. Johns County)

Common wild turkeys share the St. John's River with more rare Florida natives such as the elusive black bear. In one of the fastest growing areas of the state, the St. Johns River Blueway project will help keep the St. Johns River, key tributaries and vital wetland habitats from being developed.

November 2010

Jim Valentine — Upper St. Marks River Corridor (Leon, Jefferson and Wakulla counties)

Quietly meandering through some of Florida's most precious habitat, the St. Marks River makes its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. It is pocked with sinkholes, springs and karst windows. A successfully purchased St. Marks River Corridor project will achieve Florida Forever's key goals of preserving biodiversity, creating “landscape-size” protected areas, sustaining valuable water resources and safeguarding historical sites.

December 2010

Kevin Barry — Save Our Everglades (Collier County)

Under warm skies the cypress sloughs of Southwest Florida stretch to the horizon, shouldering water that flows to the coastal mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands and Gulf of Mexico. The Save Our Everglades project has already protected 200,000 acres of this unique cypress prairie habitat, helping to provide refuge for critically endangered animals and recreational enjoyment. However, more acreage remains to be purchased.

January 2009

John Moran — Escribano Point — Santa Rosa County

The arching remnants of a fallen, sun-bleached oak, invite the eye along what could be 10.4 miles of protected shoreline if Florida Forever's Escribano Point project becomes reality. Acquiring Escribano Point will help protect nine known archeological sites and two historic sites, supply habitat for threatened species, and join existing conservation lands.

February 2009

Jeff Ripple — Florida Keys Ecosystem — Monroe County

With gin-clear water, reefs, islands, and unique hardwood hammocks, the Keys are one of Florida's natural gems that are under grave threat due to intense development. Protecting what's left of the unprotected, undeveloped Keys will enhance current nature-based recreational opportunities for millions of visitors and help ensure the survival of 68 unique rare plants and animals, some found no where else in the world.

March 2009

Clyde Butcher — Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed — Lee and Collier counties

The remnants of the once vast cypress swamps in Southwest Florida must be protected for the Florida panther and black bear to survive. At nearly 70,000 acres, the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) project will accomplish this goal. One-third is already protected.If the remaining 43,000 acres are acquired, CREW will connect Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (pictured) to the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

April 2009

Jim Valentine — Wakulla Springs Protection Zone — Wakulla and Leon counties

Despite being protected as a state park, Wakulla Springs suffers from severe water quality problems. Agricultural and residential pollution from surrounding unprotected land seeps through the ground and into the aquifer, which eventually resurfaces at Wakulla Springs. To protect Wakulla Springs, Florida Forever is seeking to purchase important land around the spring itself that serves as a recharge area and a development buffer.

May 2009

Connie Bransilver — Estero Bay — Lee County

With dozens of known Calusa Indian sites, not only is Estero Bay one of the most archeologically rich locations in Florida, its highly productive estuary is the foundation for thriving commercial and recreational fishing industries. Nearly two-thirds of the 14,358-acre Estero Bay project has been acquired, protectingtidal zones that line the bay. Already protected, Lover's Key breathes easy under a tranquil Gulf of Mexico sunset.

June 2009

Jim Turner — Myakka Ranchlands — Sarasota County

Ferns cover the earth and trees under a sub-tropical hammock on Hi Hat Ranch, one of three ranches in the Myakka Ranchlands project. Working ranches are vital to preserving Florida's pioneering heritage and keeping wildlife habitat intact. About half of the Myakka Ranchlands 18,739 acres are used for agriculture, while the other half are kept in a natural state.

July 2009

Wes Skiles — Florida's First Magnitude Springs — Walton, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Wakulla, Leon, Hamilton, Madison, Suwannee, Lafayette, Levy, Marion and Hernando counties

Florida's aquifer is a natural wonder unlike any in the world. Eight billion gallons of flowing, subterranean water give rise to 33 first magnitude springs that gush more than 65 million gallons per day. One such example is the Diepolder cave system (pictured), which is part of the Weeki Wachee watershed. Florida's aquifer is extremely delicate. Human disturbances, such as pollution from nitrates, fertilizers and residential waste, create major water quality problems. Creating protection zones around sensitive first magnitude springs will help protect the aquifer.

August 2009

Will Dickey — Longs Landing Estuary — Flagler County

The Florida Communities Trust (FCT) provides $63 million each year in Florida Forever grant funding to local governments and nonprofits to acquire land for community-based parks, open spaces and greenways. The applications far outweigh the program's funds. In 2007, fewer than 25 percent of the applications were funded. One of the sites not funded in 2007,which has been resubmitted for 2008, is Longs Landing Estuary in Palm Coast. The city is working to secure funding for the nine-acre site for a nature center, boardwalk, fishing pier, wildlife observation platform, and two canoe/kayak launches.

September 2009

Mac Stone — Wekiva-Ocala Greenway — Orange, Lake, Seminole and Volusia counties

Sunrise paints warm light on the gnarled cypress-lined shore of Lake Norris at the western end of Florida Forever's 82,048- acre Wekiva-Ocala Greenway project. Preserving large tracts of quality habitat, this project can provide tremendous recreational opportunities for the Orlando area and diversify its economic base. The lower Wekiva River is a National Wild and Scenic River, and the Florida Trail, a designated National Scenic Trail, is planned to cross through the project boundaries.

October 2009

James Shadle — Bombing Range Ridge — Polk, Highlands and Osceola counties

The 44,474-acre Bombing Range Ridge project, once acquired, would connect Avon Park Air Force Range to Lake Kissimmee State Park and surrounding South Florida Water Management District land. Pines and palmettos serve as critical habitat for at least 20 rare species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, Florida scrub jays and grasshopper sparrows.

November 2009

Carlton Ward Jr. — Adams Ranch - Osceola County

The 30,000-acre parcel on the south side of Lake Marian is central to the Adams Ranch beef operations and also protects environmentally valuable lands. Working with the Nature Conservancy, there are plans to preserve parts of the ranch through conservation easements. The Adams Ranch, under the leadership of Alto “Bud” Adams Jr., is leading a pioneering effort to conserve 12,000 acres of highly valued environmental land near Fort Pierce through the application of the Rural Land Stewardship Program.

December 2009

Eric Zamora — Caber Coastal Connector — Levy County

Sunrise illuminates the marsh around Preacher Hole, a popular fishing spot along the Caber Coastal Connector. At 6,052 acres, the Caber Coastal Connector is a small landscape with big possibilities. Two paved roads provide excellent access and, if purchased, the area will be managed for its recreation potential as a full-service destination park with camping facilities, horseback riding, hiking, cycling, boating and fishing. Management will be in conjunction with protected lands to the north and south.