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Jacksonville, FL (December 16, 2020) — The St. Johns River Water Management District hosted a virtual public hearing for the Julington-Durbin Preserve to discuss the District’s 10-Year Land Management plan for the 2,000-acre nature preserve off Bartram Park Blvd with residents. The virtual meeting was held on Wednesday, December 16th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm using GoToWebinar.

The St. Johns River Water Management District explained the Julington Durbin Preserve best on its website, describing the popular outdoor spot as “a natural oasis among the urban areas of Jacksonville and St. Johns County, located on a peninsula formed at the confluence of Julington and Durbin creeks.”

The importance of maintaining the preserve is not only important to protect wildlife, but it’s important to the residents of Jacksonville. Many people take advantage of the hidden gem off Bartram Park Blvd year around for multiple recreational activities. This list ranges from physical use, such as hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, bicycling, fishing, to educational, emotional, and mental use like nature study, photography, and meditating.

Councilman Becton attended the virtual hearing; however, this was not be the first public discussion he has participated in along with many District 11 and Jacksonville residents.

The Julington-Durbin Preserve has always been a priority of mine to encourage it’s continued care and additional enhancements that can make this park more inviting and entertaining for its visitors and our residents,” Council Member Becton commented. “This Preserve’s Management Plan is important in that it brings together all of the coordinating agencies to document the important aspects of the preserve, the need for controlled and safe management needs and activities like prescribed burns and to acknowledge the enhancements that are in progress and on our wish list for future years.”

In fact, citizens from all over the city have been heavily involved with protecting the land for many years. Back in July of 2018, Councilman Becton joined a crowd of residents for a peaceful protest at a “Save the Park Rally.” It was a celebration for their victory against a proposal by the original developer, who decided not to follow through with their plans to exchange 403 acres in Black Hammock Island for property within the preserve to build 1,400 additional homes to expand Bartram Park.

This land swap when first announced in June of 2018, sparking the attention of local residents, visitors, environmentalist and large organizations like St. John’s River Keeper whereby a petition was started to save the preserve, which received about 6,500 signatures in two weeks.

On June 28th,the original developer, Eastland announced its decision to not pursue the exchange of land in an official press release. According to a News4Jax article, a written statement from the President of Eastland Tom Dodson, wrote “instead we are now exploring the sale of the Black Hammock land to the state of Florida.”

SJRM’s said the district conducted the meeting online “to protect our communities in accordance with COVID-19 (Coronavirus) social distancing guidelines.” The public could watch and participate in this meeting for free using GoToWebinar, an online communications tool. There was an option to call in to the meeting using a phone for those with limited or no internet access. Comments were presented orally and the public also had the opportunity to write their comments and submit them via mail or email prior to the date of the public hearing.

Getting public input into this process is important,” Council Member Becton acknowledge. “The Preserve is an important asset of the residents and the surrounding communities and it is vital that these stakeholders have a voice in that process. It was great to see that process work and that many good comments and recommendations were taken under advisement.”

Land Resource Specialist, Brent Bachelder, with the SJRMD said “it is important to know that management plans are mandated by Florida Statute for both State and District owned property. The objective of this meeting is to receive public comment regarding considerations for the District’s Preserve Management Plan. The Management Plan provides guidelines for land management activities to be implemented at the Preserve over the next ten years. The focus is natural, cultural, and recreational resource management. The Draft Management Plan currently under development is a revision of the land management plan approved in 2006 by the Acquisition and Restoration Council and the District Governing Board.”

Prior to the meeting being held, Bachelder said this land “is a valuable piece of the natural resource management puzzle in Northeast Florida,” and SJRMD is looking forward to the comments and public discussion that will take place during the hearing, and very well may help with completing the Preserve Management Plan.

After this meeting, I had the opportunity to perform a field trip with the folks at SJRWD and the COJ Parks and Recreation. During that on-site visitation, we were able to revisit the Management Plans listed enhancement, timelines and priorities,” Council Member Becton commented. “As part of my comments and concerns where I have been advocating for a kayak landing off Julington Creek, we actually found a site that might be perfect. This was an example of engagement that this process was all about.” 

According to the SJRM’s property description online, “the peninsula is a long sandy ridge that transitions into floodplain swamp and marsh along the creeks’ shores, protecting approximately nine miles of shoreline along the two creeks. Natural communities consist of sandhill along the higher areas near the center of the peninsula and flatwoods at the lower elevations. The preserve contains extensive floodplain wetlands, providing water quality and floodplain protection for both creeks and the St. Johns River. In addition to the protection of water resources, the property also protects several historical and cultural resources in the area, as documented by Florida Division of Historical Resources. For security of those resources, they are not identified. One of the special highlights of this property is the ephemeral wetlands located within the sandhills that provide seasonal habitats for species such as dabbling duck species and salamanders.”

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By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant