Jacksonville’s “Fern Gully” Preserved (FL)

Jacksonville, FL: The site is known locally as “Fern Gully,” a reference to a children’s movie about a rainforest threatened by development that is saved through the efforts of the animals and tree fairies who live there. The Woodside Lane site was first saved from deforestation in 1995 when determined neighbors lobbied for its preservation.

More recently, this beautifully forested parcel was on the fast track to being clearcut and developed into 17 homesites. Instead, the Trust for Public Land has purchased the property.

The owner had immediate plans for development, which included the filling of 4.6 acres of wetlands in order to create the “uplands” necessary for the homesites. “It is a common misperception that wetlands cannot be cleared or developed,” said Susan Grandin, Trust for Public Land project manager and director of TPL’s Northeast Florida office. “In this situation, the owner had the plans ready to move forward. Fortunately, we were dealing with an owner, Doug Burnette, who was willing to work through the process with us to preserve this land for future generations. Mr. Burnette grew up in Mandarin and has seen the dramatic changes that have taken place in the area over the last 20 years. His willingness to set aside his plans for development and work with us to preserve this property made the difference.” Burnette is the son of Sharon Burnette, the recent recipient of the Duval County Teacher of the Year award.

Mary Ann Southwell, Jacksonville City Councilwoman whose district includes the Mandarin area, has been an ardent champion of preserving the site. “One of my campaign promises to myself was that I was going to get the city to buy this land,” she said. “There are very few parks in the Mandarin area, and definitely nothing like this. It is an absolutely gorgeous property.” Southwell hopes to name the park Fern Gully Preserve in honor of the neighborhood’s efforts to stop the clearcutting in 1995.

The site will meet several needs in the community. The property provides vital drainage from the Mandarin area, and preserving the site will help mitigate the impact on wetlands at a proposed boat ramp in the area. Public acquisition of the property also will keep it from being developed and exacerbating traffic congestion in the area, and will protect one of the few remaining forested areas in heavily developed Mandarin.

The site borders the Grandy Preserve, a 40-acre hardwood swamp owned by the Duval Audubon Society. Together, the two properties will create an important habitat for wildlife in the area.

“This is great news,” said Jody Willis, Audubon’s Conservation Chair. “We applaud the conservation of this land as a nature preserve, especially because of its location next to our site.”

This is the seventh land acquisition project TPL has completed with the City of Jacksonville’s Preservation Project, bringing the partnership’s total to 2,011 acres and $35.4 million. TPL and the city have been working together since 1999, when TPL entered into a contract with the city to help implement Mayor John Delaney’s “Preservation Project,” Jacksonville’s $362 million “greenprint” for growth management. TPL opened a Jacksonville office in March 2000 to carry out this program.

“We are very pleased to be involved in realizing Mayor Delaney’s vision for Jacksonville,” said Greg Chelius, Director of TPL’s Florida Office. “The city is well on its way to becoming a natural showcase for Florida and the nation.”