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Patchwork

Tallahassee and Leon County planners for a decade have envisioned preservation of the wetlands and forested uplands of the St. Marks River flood plain, facilitating the purchase of 4,700 acres to add to a patchwork of green spaces that eventually could connect from Georgia to the Gulf.

This summer, the state chipped in by purchasing 2,589 acres from developer St. Joe Co. for conservation and a possible state park. The $10.6-million deal was brokered by The Nature Conservancy. The acreage, largely in Leon County, is part of a 15,000-acre, top-priority Florida Forever project and includes St. Marks River shoreline, cypress trees more than 100 years old and prime habitat for migrant birds and Florida black bear.

"We had pieces of the puzzle,'' says Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department special projects manager Craig Diamond. "This is a major assemblage of other parts of the jigsaw.'' Conservation of the river corridor also will help protect the water quality of the St. Marks and the Floridan Aquifer. "The greater the width of land where you can protect and undertake restoration measures, the more likely the water quality of the river can be protected,'' Diamond says.

St. Joe Co.'s recent announcement of its FloridaWild program, offering restricted- use sale of conservation acreage, attracted significant interest in the St. Marks corridor among private buyers, says Senior Vice President Will Butler. But St. Joe held off on a sale and accepted the state's offer, deeming its plan the "highest, best and proper use.''