Cabinet approves Florida Forever funding for Wakulla Caves
The 717-acre property can now move toward closing and becoming an addition to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.
Tallahassee, Fla., July 25, 2019 — Today, Conservation Florida (CFL), a leader in statewide land conservation, and its partners, received the Cabinet’s approval to fund the Wakulla Caves land and springs protection project.
Thanks to Governor DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet in its role as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, funding will be allocated from the Florida Forever program to complete the purchase of this 717-acre parcel of global significance in Wakulla County. It has been on the state’s land protection list for over 20 years and will now be permanently protected as an addition to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, located about seven miles south of Tallahassee.
The total purchase price of the property is $4.2 million, with $2.54 million committed toward its acquisition by the USDA Forest Service through the Forest Legacy Program, which ranked the Wakulla Caves property at #6 in the nation for funding during its 2018 fiscal year.
“The Wakulla Caves Forest project is an opportunity for the Forest Legacy Program to help protect an important underground water resource with a unique recreational use of cave diving. There is no other Forest Legacy project quite like this one in the nation”, said Michael Murphy, Forest Legacy Program manager for the Southeast, “and this USDA Forest Service Program conserves over 2.7 million acres of environmentally important forests”.
Wakulla Springs is a National Natural Landmark and one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. The land also provides essential aquifer recharge benefits to the Wakulla Springs springshed and the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve.
“DEP is committed to the protection and restoration of Florida’s world-renowned springs,” said Division Director of State Lands Callie DeHaven. “Through science, planning and strong community partnerships, we can preserve this cherished natural resource for future generations.”
“It’s a privilege to work with DEP, Florida Forest Service, and U.S. Forest Service to protect the Wakulla Caves property and its water resources that have been a priority to protecting Wakulla Springs for many years. There is power in partnership and the protection of Wakulla Caves is a great example of that,” said Traci Deen, CFL’s executive director.
Acquisition of Wakulla Caves also protects 13 karst sinks located on the property. The sinks provide entry into a vast underground cave and tunnel network accessible only from the Wakulla Caves property, making it a world-class cave diving destination.
“I am extremely proud of our team and their efforts to secure over $2.5 million to protect the Wakulla Caves property, one of the top ranked projects in the nation,” said Jim Karels, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “It is through the Forest Legacy Program and with strong partnerships that we can continue to prioritize the protection of Florida’s unique natural spaces.”
The protection of this property is key to creating a landscape-scale conservation corridor between Apalachicola National Forest and Wakulla Springs State Park. It is located two miles north of Wakulla Springs State Park, and it will significantly benefit the springs’ headwaters.
“This is an incredible win for Florida,” said Deen. “Wakulla Caves is a North Florida gem that protects fresh water resources on top of offering world-class scuba diving and recreational opportunities, and it is located in a conservation corridor with key habitat for native plants and wildlife.”
In addition to its rare water features, Wakulla Caves contains habitat for species found only in the region, including the Woodville Karst cave crayfish. It is also home to longleaf pine ecosystem species such as the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Florida black bear, gopher tortoise, and Southeastern fox squirrel.
“After more than 20 years of working with state agencies, Conservation Florida brought a renewed sense of optimism and understanding to negotiations that finally resulted in a deal,” said owner John Ferrell. “I couldn’t be happier for the legacy of my family than to have the amazing water resources of this property in public ownership.”
Check out the video below of Meeting House cavern, which is one of over 13 karst sinks found on the Wakulla Caves property.