Conservationists In Final Sprint To Preserve Land In Sarasota County - WUSF Public Media | Tampa NPR, Local News Coverage

Conservationists In Final Sprint To Preserve Land In Sarasota County

Environmentalists have long had their eyes on Orange Hammock Ranch because of its proximity to the Myakka River watershed. Everett Dennison

A deadline is fast approaching to preserve nearly 6,000 acres of land in Sarasota County.

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In February, state officials agreed to acquire Orange Hammock Ranch in North Port for $21 million through the Florida Forever Conservation program.

As part of the deal, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast pledged to kick in $1.5 million in fundraising dollars by June 1.

Christine Johnson, the foundation’s president, acknowledged that it’s a tough time to raise money.

“Because of COVID-19, there are many people out there that are hurting, out of work or have reduced income,” she said. “We understand that some people cannot make a gift and just hope that there are still people who are able because this is something that will be protected forever.”

Environmentalists have long had their eyes on the land because of its proximity to the Myakka River watershed.

The vast land is home to quail, indigo snake and the Florida black bear. The property is also connected with 120,000 acres of protected land, making it viable habitat for Florida panther, which are now breeding in nearby Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area.

“Orange Hammock Ranch has it all,” said Johnson.  “Water, rare habitat, endangered species and public access.”

The conservation foundation is still $600,000 away from its goal and a group of donors recently agreed to pledge half of that money as a challenge to the community to raise the remaining $300,000.

“This is an historic moment for our community,” said Johnson. “For nearly two decades it has been a major conservation priority to save this land. During this pandemic, we’ve seen people flocking to our public open spaces underlining our need for more places to enjoy nature. We hope that this generous challenge inspires others to make an impact forever.”

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