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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Alachua County Forever acquires vital portion of land for conservation corridor

Property once owned by famed conservationists Archie and Majorie Harris Carr

Brian McNab fondly remembers many memories from his close friendship with environmentalist Archie Carr. One sticks with him: purchasing the land — home to a beloved Live oak tree — that Archie convinced him to in the late 1970s. 

“He said, ‘the piece of land I’m going to sell you has a little wedge in it and it will be around that tree, so you can’t do anything with it’,” the 90-year-old retired UF biology professor said. “It has since then been called Archie’s Tree.” 

Following years of collaboration with McNab and the Carr family, Alachua County Forever purchased this land, which is slated to become part of a wildlife corridor southwest of Micanopy. It will connect Barr Hammock Preserve and Price’s Scrub State Park, a vital development in statewide conservation efforts. The property formerly belonged to Archie and his wife, conservationist Majorie Harris Carr. 

Alachua County Forever, a program dedicated to acquiring, improving and managing environmentally significant lands, funded the purchase of the Carr-McNab property through the Wild Spaces & Public Places one-half percent sales tax, which generates funds to improve parks and conservation land. The initiative was recently doubled through the approval of an Alachua County referendum Nov. 8. 

Peggy Carr, a 70-year-old Gainesville resident, is a retired UF landscape architecture professor. As the daughter-in-law of Archie and Majorie, she felt a responsibility to honor their memory. 

“We, as a family, decided we wanted to try to protect as much of the land as possible for permanent conservation,” Carr said. 

Archie was a UF zoology professor and famed environmentalist that pioneered research in declining sea turtle populations from habitat destruction and over-hunting. He was also a successful nature writer, Peggy said. 

As an established zoologist and environmental activist, Majorie founded Florida Defenders of the Environment and successfully blocked the development of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a body of water that would have connected the east and west coasts of the state for trade. This achievement paved the way for future statewide conservation efforts. 

“We know how much they loved natural Florida and we know how much they loved the farm,” she said. “By having it permanently protected, we thought it was a great way to add to their conservation legacy.”  

Andi Christman, Alachua County Land Conservation Program manager, worked extensively with both McNab and the Carr family to ensure their land would be protected through conservation sale. 

Established as part of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network, Christman said the Carr-McNab property was kept in its natural state enough to label it as an optimal preservation area. 

“[Florida Ecological Greenways Network] is looking at identifying what the most important lands in the state are that have not been completely altered from a natural condition that could still provide a state level network of ecological greenways,” Christman said.

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Positioned directly between Barr Hammock Preserve and Price’s Scrub State Park, this land acquisition is part of the Florida Forever Project. It’s slated to become part of a conservation corridor linking these two areas, she said. 

“The goal of the project is to establish a corridor between those two properties that would allow wildlife to move freely from property to property,” she said, “but possibly long term in the future might also allow recreational visitors to move from property to property.” 

However, the Carr-McNab land is just one piece in a much more complex puzzle of untouched area between both preserves. More property acquisitions by Alachua County Forever would be required to establish the entire corridor, Christman said. 

“We have hopes we’ll be able to acquire others that will physically create a protected corridor of land between those two larger preserves,” she said. 

The establishment of this wildlife passage also presents a unique opportunity to link conservation efforts between Alachua and Marion counties, Christman said.

“It allows us to extend efforts within Alachua County into a broader, bigger picture that includes parts of Marion County as well,” she said. “That’s one of the unique and exciting opportunities that come from this particular corridor.”

Negotiations to have this area purchased and protected by the county began eight years ago and have finally come to fruition, Peggy said. Linking the Barr Hammock Preserve and Price’s Scrub State Park will be a long process, but Peggy hopes the Carr-McNab land will be the vital first step. 

“This is what we hope is the first phase of protection for the land between those two, and eventually I hope it will be a complete ecological corridor between the two,” she said. 

McNab bought his portion of the Carr-McNab property from Archie Carr himself. They shared a close friendship for many years, he said. 

“I’ve been holding it to incorporate into a conservation area and that has now been done,” McNab said.

Exploding development in Gainesville that has reduced natural preservation focus was his main motivation for protecting this land through conservation sale, McNab said. 

“It’s just a natural thing that a biologist would like to preserve part of nature,” he said.

Contact Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp at Follow her on Twitter @rylan_digirapp.

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Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp

Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp is a second-year journalism and environmental science major covering enterprise politics. She previously worked as a metro news assistant. Outside of the newsroom, you can usually find her haunting local music venues.

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