North Florida Land Trust celebrated its successes and looked forward to the future at their Annual Meeting held last night at Congaree and Penn. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union columnist and author of “Lassoing the Sun,” served as the keynote speaker for the event. NFLT President Jim McCarthy delivered the annual report and Matt Rapp, PGA Tour senior vice president and vice-chair of the NFLT board of directors, presented the annual awards. This was the first time the organization has hosted this event since celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020.
McCarthy spoke about the importance of conservation with approximately 75 people a day moving into the Jacksonville metropolitan area. He told the crowd made up of supporters, community leaders, donors, and business leaders that natural resources are what drive many to our area, and protecting the lands is as important as ever.
“Hidden from the obvious is that more people will demand more water,” said McCarthy. “Its quantity and quality are critically important to us all. We must protect our aquifer recharge areas. Our shorelines must be protected from flooding. Our commercial fishing industry needs more fish, and our manatees need safe places to hide in a storm. Hence, we must protect our marsh grasses just as we protect our trees, farms, ranches, rivers, and lakes.”
NFLT has developed a strategic plan that will guide the nonprofit land conservation organization for the next five years and has changed its mission statement “to preserve and enhance the quality of life by protecting North Florida’s irreplaceable natural environment”. In 2021, NFLT protected nine new properties and nearly 1,000 acres which brings its total preserved acres to nearly 27,000. They planted 72,000 longleaf pine seedlings, completed its fifth year of the Painted Bunting Project, and its Team Terrapin, the organization’s diamondback terrapin monitoring program, found and protected a record 724 nests.
NFLT continues to lead the O2O partnership which is made up of 27 public and private organizations dedicated to landscape-scale conservation in the 1.6-million-acre corridor of public and private lands that connects the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. Along with their partners, they added 2,000 acres to the Ocala to Osceola Wildlife Corridor and have plans for continued preservation in 2022.
Keynote speaker Mark Woods talked about the importance of preserving natural lands. Woods won the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship which allowed him to take a year sabbatical to visit the national parks and led to the book, “Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks.” Woods said his year in the national parks made him appreciate what we have here in Northeast Florida and especially the 7 Creeks Recreation Area which includes NFLT’s Bogey Creek Preserve.
“I am grateful to North Florida Land Trust for its work in preserving Bogey Creek Preserve which is just one example of what the organization does,” said Woods. “There are lots of pieces of our local national park areas including the Spanish American War Fort and American Beach that the organization has helped to preserve. One of the things I realized through my work is that we need these places now more than ever. I am grateful for what has been preserved and thankful to organizations like North Florida Land Trust for all that they have done.”
NFLT has plans for continued preservation in 2022. They plan to create more protected habitats for gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and black bears through funding from the US Department of Agriculture through two Regional Conservation Partnership Program awards. The organization is working to secure Little Tiger Island in Nassau County for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program awarded $1 million of the $2.3 million needed for acquisition. They also have an agreement with the U.S. Navy to protect their mission at facilities in and around Jacksonville.
In 2022, NFLT will also work with counties throughout Northeast Florida to plan for conservation. They will be updating their Preservation Portfolio which has served as the strategic planning guide for land preservation efforts for the past seven years and they are developing a Salt Marsh Initiative to protect shorelines from storm surge and tidal flooding.
To wrap up the event, McCarthy and Matt Rapp, vice-chair of the NFLT board, handed out the annual awards at the event and recognized the 2020 and 2021 members of the McQuilkin Society, which was named for NFLT Founder Bill McQuilkin and honors major donors. The 2020 members include Margaret Kirkland on behalf of Amelia Tree Conservancy, Sarah Edwards, Autumn Combs on behalf of the MaryEllen Willis Foundation, and Sally and Tony Perez. The new 2021 members include David and Susanna Barton, Herve and Heather Devos, Morton Glickman, Rick and Faith Hoffman, Ron Pfeffer, Dory Shipley on behalf of The Walter V. and Judith L. Shipley Family Foundation, and Robert Hays, on behalf of the Timucuan Parks Foundation
Nassau County Manager Taco Pope and the Nassau County Board of Commissioners received the 2021 Partner of the Year Award and the 2021 Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Pam Hart. The 2021 Advocate of the Year Award Winner was State Representative and House Speaker-Designate Paul Renner who was unable to attend the event.
NFLT is grateful for its sponsors for the event which included Black Bear Sponsors — The Players and Wetland Preserve, Bobcat Sponsor — Hanna Foundation, Great Blue Heron Sponsors — Lisa Barton Team, Rick & Faith Hoffman, Ken & Connie McDaniel, and Don Pepe, and River Otter Sponsors— American Government Services Corporation, Clay County Port, Bank of America, Mary W. Coleman, T.R. and Melody Hainline, William Harper, Pastor Carlton Jones, Jennifer and Jon Lasserre and Lewis, Longman, and Walker P.A.
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of life by protecting North Florida’s irreplaceable natural environment. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through the donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations.