Governor, Cabinet approve purchase of last private tract in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
SANTA ROSA BEACH — Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet have approved the purchase of the only remaining privately held tract within Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, a 4.5-acre tract within the 1,637-acre preserve purchased by the state in 1992.
The 4.5-acre private tract was acquired for $882,500 using funds from Florida Forever, a program under which the state legislature appropriates funding to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) specifically for the purchase of public lands in the form of parks, trails, forests, wildlife management areas and other land classifications.
Florida Forever is “the largest public land acquisition program of its type in the United States,” according to the DEP, with the governor and Cabinet serving as the program’s board of trustees, responsible for taking action on acquisition projects recommended to them on an annual basis.
The preserve, off Walton County Road 30A, was purchased in 1992 through the Conservation Acquisition of Recreation Lands program, a precursor to Florida Forever. The purchase was made in large part due to the area’s diversity of ecosystems, which range from rare coastal freshwater dune lakes filled with a variety of aquatic wildlife, as well as old-growth pine forests, sandy scrubland, dunes and wetlands, according to the park’s website.
The park is located close to the boundaries of the Mussett Bayou wildfire that consumed nearly 350 acres of South Walton county earlier this month. The park did not sustain any damage from the blaze, which destroyed three dozen homes and damaged two dozen other dwellings.
The purchase at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park was one of a number of acquisitions approved by DeSantis and the Cabinet on Thursday. Other outright acquisitions involved Gulf County’s Lake Wimico, Silver River in Marion County, Devil’s Garden in Hendry County and the Bluffs of St. Teresa in Franklin and Wakulla counties.
Conservation easements at Green Swamp in Polk County and Tippen Bay Ranch in DeSoto County also were approved by the governor and Cabinet on Thursday.
The latest round of acquisitions was met with enthusiasm from Audubon Florida, a nonprofit conservation organization.
“What a victory to see these properties protected in perpetuity, for generations of people and wildlife alike,” Julie Wraithmell, executive director for Audubon Florida, said in a news release. “This is what Florida Forever is truly about — protecting what makes our state special, our quality of life, and the bedrock foundation of our state’s economy.”
Since 2001, nearly 819,000 acres have been protected through the Florida Forever program, through the expenditure of just over $3 billion.