North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) is one step closer to preserving 541 acres in Marion County known as Swan Smiley Big Pine Preserve. In 2021, the nonprofit land conservation organization proposed the property to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and it was approved as an addition to the Florida Forever Program Longleaf Pine Ecosystems Project. The State found it to be an important addition to the project area because of its imperiled habitats and potential for outdoor recreation. NFLT worked to bring the Swan Smiley Big Pine Preserve landowners under contract and have them agree to sell the property to the State. Today, the Governor and Cabinet voted to approve the purchase of the property, located within the Ocala to Osceola, or O2O, Wildlife Corridor.
“This is another great step forward for conservation in Florida because it is now or never,” said Allison DeFoor, president of NFLT. “We appreciate the willingness of these landowners to preserve these properties and for understanding that it is imperative for our State and future generations that we act now. Once these natural lands are lost, they are lost forever. I would also like to thank the Governor and Cabinet for their dedication to preservation.”
Swan Smiley Big Pine Preserve contains one of Florida’s largest remaining old-growth longleaf pine forests that had not been preserved. The private lands of Swan Smiley Big Pine Preserve are surrounded by Ocala National Forest which is home to many imperiled species including the Florida scrub-jay and the red-cockaded woodpecker. The property will be owned by the state and managed through a partnership between the Florida Forest Service and the U.S. National Forest.
Swan Smiley Big Pine Preserve is adjacent to Lake Kerr and near the Salt Spring Recreation Area. Protecting this land for conservation will add more than a half-mile of lakeshore to the Ocala National Forest complex. The lake is a popular location for fishing and water recreation. It is also close to spring waters and could have water quality implications if not conserved. Preserving the 541 acres will also add more conservation lands available for hunting, hiking and outdoor activities.
The O2O is a 1.6-million-acre corridor of public and private lands that connects the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. NFLT leads a partnership of public and private organizations dedicated to conservation and land management within the O2O.
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.