A plan to protect 39,000 acres along the upper Apalachicola River won early-stage approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection's Acquisition and Restoration Council Friday. The project is a missing link in the patchwork of conservation land ringing the state’s largest river.
The conservation easement boasts eighty miles of river frontage, mostly in Calhoun and Liberty Counties. It’s home to Florida black bears and manatees, and 67 archaeological sites, some dating back 10,000 years. Conservationists say the project is vital to preserving one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America. Robert Williams with the Apalachee Audubon Society says the land has scarcely changed for hundreds of years.
“There are very few vistas in Florida that are as great as the one that you get when you hike the Garden of Eden Trail and come out on Alum Bluff 120 feet above the Apalachicola River. All of that land that you see from the top of Alum Bluff is part of this project,” Williams said.
Jim Karels of the state forest service is on the board overseeing the project. And he’s spent some time overlooking this land.
“To stand there on those bluffs at night, and to look out over that river and not to see lights, not to hear roads. A few airplanes flying over, but there is almost no place like that left in Florida,” Karels said.
Under the proposal, the private Forestland Group would keep ownership of the property, but would agree not to develop it. Public access could involve hiking trails and boat launches. The project faces further reviews before the Cabinet is able to consider it.