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Monday, May 23, 2022

Preserve now open to public

<p>Gainesville resident Mary Horn (right) explores the newly opened Barr Hammock Preserve with Emily Hoon, an Alachua County resident, at the opening celebration Saturday morning. The pair walked along the 6.5-mile Levy Loop hiking trail, which circles around restored marsh.</p>

Gainesville resident Mary Horn (right) explores the newly opened Barr Hammock Preserve with Emily Hoon, an Alachua County resident, at the opening celebration Saturday morning. The pair walked along the 6.5-mile Levy Loop hiking trail, which circles around restored marsh.

Local residents have a new area to explore after a nature preserve south of Gainesville opened Saturday morning.

About 200 people gathered at the Barr Hammock Nature Preserve, located south of Lake Wauburg, to celebrate the opening of Alachua County’s newest nature area.

The preserve is about 5,700 acres, and Alachua County Forever, a land preservation group, opened the north side of the property, about 1,500 acres, to the public.

Ramesh Buch, Alachua County Forever program manager, said he was excited about the 200-person turnout.

“I think that this shows that this is a piece people had their eyes on since we’ve acquired it and have been sort of waiting for us — some patiently, some impatiently — to have it open and available,” he said.

Alachua County Forever purchased the preserve in parts between 2006 and 2010 using grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and Florida Communities Trust as well as donations from the original owners.

One of the parts was the 3,200-acre Levy Prairie Preserve, which was purchased for $4 million. About 1,500 acres of it are now available to the public.

Buch said his organization plans to expand the preserve’s recreation area, which will include 25 additional miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

“It cost the people of Alachua County nothing,” said Mike Byerly, chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

Irma McLaughlin, a 66-year-old retired county employee and outdoor enthusiast, said she looked forward to riding her bike and bird watching in the preserve when the weather is warmer.

“I’m hoping someday a whooping crane will come decide to visit here,” she said. “That would be great.”

Gainesville resident Mary Horn (right) explores the newly opened Barr Hammock Preserve with Emily Hoon, an Alachua County resident, at the opening celebration Saturday morning. The pair walked along the 6.5-mile Levy Loop hiking trail, which circles around restored marsh.

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