The District is working to protect and preserve water resources, ecosystems and economies of the Perdido River region, and restore large tracts of commercial forest land to native longleaf pine/wiregrass habitat. In partnership with the Conservation Fund, it spent about $12 million to purchase 5,456 acres, including about 15 miles of river frontage, from International Paper (IP). The acquisition increased District ownership across northwest Florida to more than 200,000 acres, and was part of a larger Conservation Fund purchase of timberland in three states designed to extend natural protection of the river across state boundaries. An outstanding benefit to the citizens of Escambia County in a time of escalating real estate prices across northwest Florida, these woodlands will be preserved in perpetuity and will open for recreation, woodlands that have been closed to the public for years.
An Escambia County Recreational Water Trail is envisioned, with several boat landing access points. This would include a District-planned canoe access and park area on the extreme northern tract, as well as existing public access points on state and county roads. Other possible recreational activities include hunting, special opportunity hunting, camping, horseback riding, hiking, bird watching and nature appreciation.
Most of the natural habitats in the river floodplain and along eight perennial streams are in good condition and will require little restoration or enhancement. However, the District does anticipate restoring most of the 1,850 acres north of Interstate 10 to native longleaf pine/wiregrass habitat over several years.
The District used Florida Forever funds to acquire the property and hopes to partner with Escambia County and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to manage and protect natural and recreational resources. Also, a small portion of the property will be purchased with Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) mitigation funds.
Other Florida Forever capital improvement funds were awarded to Escambia County to restore a natural, stable channel to Ten Mile Creek, which is expected to reduce flooding, erosion and turbidity and improve the quality of its receiving waters, Eleven Mile Creek and Perdido Bay. In the same drainage basin, Florida Forever funds will help construct the Blue Pit Wetland Stormwater Retention project to enhance water quality, flood protection, biological diversity and ground water recharge.