North Florida Land Trust, the Bull Family and the City of Atlantic Beach were joined by citizens and community leaders on Earth Day to celebrate the dedication of the Harcourt and Florence Stolbrand Bull Memorial Preserve, also known as the Bull Family Preserve. The 217-acre preserve along the Intracoastal waterway near Atlantic Boulevard was acquired by NFLT in February from Atlantic Beach Holding Co., a group of heirs of Harcourt Bull, the first mayor of Atlantic Beach, and his wife. On Saturday, the family and the community gathered at the dock at Atlantic Beach’s Tide Views Preserve, which is adjacent to the Bull Family Preserve, to celebrate the property which will remain in its natural state forever.
Chuck Bull, vice president of Atlantic Beach Holding, served as emcee of the event and introduced his extended family who came from as far away as the Pacific Northwest. He also introduced dignitaries from Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach who joined the celebration. Chelly Schembera, president of Atlantic Beach Holdings and granddaughter of Harcourt Bull, gave the crowd a history of the family and its connection to Atlantic Beach which dates to 1911 when Harcourt Bull and a group of investors bought the assets of Henry Flagler. Bull moved the family down to Atlantic Beach in 1915 and became the city’s first mayor in 1925. The five parcels that make up the Bull Family Preserve were purchased between 1949 and 1962. The family came together and decided as a group that they wanted to make sure it was protected.
“Many members of the Bull family value environmental stewardship so we wanted to make sure the critical wetlands habitat was protected in perpetuity,” said Angela Bowden, daughter of Harcourt Bull III and shareholder of Atlantic Beach Holding. “We did our due diligence and found North Florida Land Trust. We really appreciate the work they do. The 217 acres that we donated adds to a large swath along the Intracoastal Waterway that will be protected. We are pleased to honor the legacy of Florence and Harcourt Bull, Sr., Harcourt Bull, Jr. and his brother George, Sr., and my father, Harcourt Bull III. And we are pleased to be making a small contribution to the continued natural beauty of the state of Florida and all its inhabitants here in the area; the people, the plants and the animals as well as clean water and clean air.”
The Bull Family Preserve is made up of primarily salt marsh with a few small areas of hardwood forest. It serves as a habitat for wading birds including great blue herons, brown pelicans and cormorants. The salt marsh and tidal creeks are also home to federally endangered and threatened wildlife species including the West Indian manatee and the wood stork. Preserving this land also helps to prevent flooding and helps reduce storm surge.
“We are so grateful to the Bull family for stepping up to the plate and realizing the importance of the preservation of this property because it is now or never,” said Allison DeFoor, president of NFLT. “Every time you drive across the causeway and look at this vista, I will ask you to think about what it could have been. The generosity of this family and the stewardship we are going to put into it going forward will protect this land forever. If we want our grandchildren to know what Florida looks like it has to start now or it’s not going to happen. We ask that you jump in with the Bulls and help us protect what is left of this state so our grandchildren will know what Florida looks like. It is now or never.”
The Bull Family Preserve is located near several preserves including Tide Views Preserve, Dutton Island Preserve and NFLT’s River Branch Islands Preserve. It is also across the Intracoastal Waterway from the City of Jacksonville’s Castaway Island. In addition to the environmental benefits the Bull Family Preserve provides, there are also recreational opportunities. NFLT is in talks with the cities of Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach to create a kayak launch within the preserve.
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 and conservation easements as well as facilitating government acquisition of important projects. 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.