North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) has facilitated the preservation of 470 acres in Marion County known as Swan-Smiley Big Pine Preserve, located within the Ocala to Osceola, or O2O, Wildlife Corridor. The O2O is a vital connector within the State-designated Florida Wildlife Corridor. The acquisition was primarily funded through the Florida Forever program approved by the Governor and Cabinet in May with additional private support. The preserve was purchased for $4.997 million.
NFLT first began talking with the landowners in 2020 to preserve the property that had been used as a family retreat to enjoy the wildlife and nature-based recreation opportunities the land provided. After negotiations, the family agreed to sell it for preservation. NFLT 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 continued to serve as the facilitator between the landowners and the State as the acquisition progressed.
“This project was years in the making, and we are glad we were able to complete this deal to preserve this beautiful piece of land because it is now or never,” said Allison DeFoor, president of NFLT. “We appreciate the State’s understanding of the need to preserve natural spaces, such as Swan-Smiley Big Pine Preserve. This preserve is an example of Old Florida that we are working hard to preserve so our children, grandchildren, and generations to come can enjoy what nature provides.”
Swan-Smiley Big Pine Preserve has one of Florida’s largest remaining old-growth longleaf pine forests that provide habitats for imperiled species including the Florida scrub jay and red-cockaded woodpecker. The Ocala National Forest surrounds the land. It is located on Lake Kerr and near the Salt Spring Recreation Area, a popular area for outdoor recreation including fishing, hiking and other activities. The preservation of this property adds more than a half-mile of lakeshore to the Ocala National Forest complex.
The property is now owned by the State and will be managed through a partnership between the Florida Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service. It is within the O2O, a 1.6-million-acre corridor of public and private lands that connects the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. NFLT leads a partnership of 26 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.