105 Acres Added to Indrio Blueway (FL)

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL, 1/22/03 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that it has acquired a 105-acre tract south of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution on the Indian River Lagoon.

The acquisition was completed on January 15, which put into effect a lease-purchase agreement between TPL and the county that was signed on December 10. The agreement will allow the county to purchase the site once Florida Communities Trust grant funds become available.

“With the public acquisition of this tract of land, St. Lucie County continues its ambitious effort to protect lands surrounding the environmentally significant Indian River Lagoon,” said Greg Chelius, director of TPL’s Florida office.

The property borders the Indian River Lagoon, the most ecologically diverse estuary in North America, with more than 4,000 species of plants and animals. Its preservation will not only protect the wetlands bordering the lagoon (and thus the water quality), but will also provide residents in the northern part of the county with public access to the lagoon. An existing 1750-foot shoreline dike can accommodate picnicking, fishing, crabbing, hiking and nature observation. A canoe launch is planned for the property.

“It’s one of several tracts being assembled into a greenway system that helps protect both the Indian River Lagoon and a remnant savannah system in the north part of the county,” said Doug Coward, St. Lucie County Commissioner. “We’ve been able to preserve a cross-section of the county that includes barrier islands, the shoreline of the lagoon, the Atlantic coastal ridge and the savannah system to the west. The Indrio Blueway is a critical component of that north county greenway system.”

Acquisition of the site expands the Indrio North Savannahs Greenway and Trail, a four-mile-long, 8,000-acre wildlife corridor and greenway trail through the diverse habitat of north St. Lucie County. The corridor provides strategic habitat to birds such as wood storks, bald eagles, Florida scrub jays and black whiskered vireos, and animals such as gopher tortoises, American alligators, and manatees. In fact, the area is so diverse that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has categorized it as a “biodiversity hotspot” and priority wetland for wetland species. Some of the largest slash pines in St. Lucie County exist on the site and provide prime habitat for bald eagles.

The property’s location immediately adjacent to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute provides St. Lucie County with partnering opportunities with Harbor Branch, Indian River Community College, and Florida Atlantic University to provide environmental educational programming. The three schools already work together to offer a wide variety of marine science courses, and county staff are discussing with them the possibility of using the Indrio Blueway Buffer site as an outdoor classroom for their courses as well as environmental programs for the general public.

“TPL has been very instrumental in helping us,” Coward said. “In addition to helping secure individual parcels such as this one, TPL helped the county in 1994 put together an environmental land referendum that was brought to voters and overwhelmingly approved. It generated $20 million, that has been matched by state and federal programs. We’ve been able to purchase $60 million of land – 6000 acres throughout the county – in the eight years since it was approved.”

About TPL: Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization that works exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well-being. TPL helps conserve land for recreation and spiritual nourishment and to improve the health and quality of life of American communities. Operating in Florida since 1975, TPL has helped save more than 250 sites as community parks, waterfronts, historic sites, greenways and trails. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity for the third year in a row, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs.