Nayfield Acres: a conservation story
A Conservation Story
White Springs, Hamilton County, FL
Since I am a native Floridian I have witnessed a lot of changes in my state over the last 66 years having seen the population swell from just 3 million residents to over 20 million. As a part time wildlife veterinarian and founder and former director of a wildlife rescue group I developed a great appreciation for our magnificent and wonderful native species. As an outdoorsman and fisherman I have come to appreciate how delicate Florida’s environment, natural beauty and natural resources are and the need to conserve and protect them.
So it is really little wonder that when I found myself with some disposable income I wanted to put it into land conservation. Marybeth agreed and we began the hunt for environmentally sensitive property to purchase.
We started looking around the upper Suwannee River and Santa Fe River areas in North Florida. When we camped at Stephen Foster State Park, the Folk Culture State Park, we fell in love with the old town of White Springs and the upper Suwannee. We decided with limited funding our best impact would be to purchase property adjacent to Suwannee River Water Management lands. We were lucky to find a 136 acre tract just north of town that the owner was anxious to sell. We closed on the property in October of 2009. It had been planned to be a mini-farm development.
The land was at one time a working farm and had been for almost 100 years. They grew crops, ran cattle and had tracts of planted pine. There are even remnants of an old farm house from the 1930’s.
We had attended a meeting sponsored by Conservation Florida (formerly Conservation Trust for Florida) where the members explained the process of protecting property through the use of a conservation easement (CE). We contacted them and began the process.
We also had an officer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) come out and inspect the property. Her name was Kris and she was extremely informative and would put together the property management plan required to get the CE.
There are good tax incentives for putting property into a CE and they depend on how much one limits the development. We expressed our desires to Conservation Florida and they included no houses, no mining, some agriculture, a small pole barn, a bridge and possible boardwalks, planted long leaf pines, hunting and other recreational activities. We worked through the documents and did have to pay a bit to get the CE. This money would cover the future yearly inspections required to steward the land. My accountant crunched the appraisal values for the tax relief and thus Nayfield Acres was founded.
There were several projects that needed to get started immediately. The first was to get the long leaf pines in the ground during the following winter when the trees are dormant. We opted to plant 5 areas for a total of about 25 acres and close to 23 thousand trees. We had the pastures furrowed and planted containerized tublings instead of bare root seedlings to get higher survivability. We even received a small incentive from the State for our efforts.
One of the next issues was to remove old barbed wire fencing. We learned at closing from our lawyer that old fences can overrule survey results in a property boundary dispute. Also I had seen firsthand the effects of fences on wildlife and wanted as much as possible off the property. Our first experience involved tying the wires to the hitch on the back of the truck and gunning the engine. To my amazement the posts and wires came popping off and out of the ground. Pulling the wire off the posts was another issue and wrapping this nasty stuff into balls and coils was difficult to say the least. To this date we have removed over 1600 pounds of barbed wire and recycled it in Lake City for a penny a pound. There is much more to be removed since every time the old fences failed the farmers did not remove and replace but simply added another row of fence.
The northern part of the property is about 30 acres of cypress swamp. In the early 2000’s the owner logged the trees out of this area. To do so required bringing in the massive skidders to haul the trees out. These machines left huge gouges in the swamp as seen from the aerial views. We enquired about having this area restored but the permitting process and expenses were exorbitant. Also after 18 years the native cypress trees are just starting to rebound now. It is Ironic that to log the swamp and destroy and ecosystem needed no permitting or payments.
The swamp was also used to refill the cow pond on the southern end of the land. A ditch was cut to channel the water to the artificial pond. We filled in the ditch to maintain water in the swamp as nature intended it to be.
After a year or two it became apparent that we would need a tractor to maintain the land so we built a small pole barn using recycled posts and rafters from our old boat house at the mouth of the River. We had a well drilled and ran the pump from solar panels storing water in an elevated tank. Since that construction we enclosed a bathroom and shower area. The toilet is a composting toilet which requires no water or drain field. You simply do your business and add a half a cup of a saw dust material and spin the drum. A solar powered fan helps in the composting process and there are no odors. We opted for an in line propane heater for the shower but are still having some issues with getting proper water flows and heat.
A couple years ago we installed 8 solar panels, 4 large batteries and an inverter system to generate AC electricity. It has allowed us to run small appliances and tools as well as recharge the electric ATV that we use to work and drive around the property. It would have cost a lot of money to run power lines out to the barn and above all we just didn’t want to see them on the property. Having a limited energy supply has made us very conscious of energy usage and conservation. When we bring the truck camper up we still need to use some propane but the solar power has decreased the usage of fossil fuels dramatically.
Another huge issue we faced early on was the invasion of the Chinaberry Trees. These are non-native, grow extremely rapidly, produce poison berries, choke out other native species of trees and harm wildlife. One area of the property had so many that we called it “Chinaberry Town.” Over a couple weekends in a September 8 years ago we came in with chain saws and herbicides. Basically we would cut down the trees and poison the stumps. We probably killed over 75 trees and some were a foot to a foot and a half in diameter. We learned the next year that this would not be the end of it. The berries can stay dormant for apparently a couple years and some of the trees grow off of “runners” which make them difficult to kill. So every September or October we still are killing Chinaberry trees although they are now usually less than 8 feet high or are saplings. Yes, they can grow to a height of 8 feet in a year! We are now killing them before they are able to mature and produce more seeds.
We have really managed to enjoy the property. Many times we have friends join us for a weekend of camping, work, canoeing, and sometimes hunting. We do allow the harvesting of a few deer and wild turkeys each year. We love our daytime visitors in that we can give tours in the ATV and explain about conservation and wildlife protections. If we are lucky we can see deer, turkeys, hawks, gopher tortoises, armadillos, quail, butterflies and many different birds. Our CE inspector identified an uncommon snake called a Florida Red Belly a couple weeks ago. At night we are serenaded by the tree frogs from the swamp, owls hoot and coyotes occasionally call.
It was truly a pleasure to have worked with Conservation Florida. Marybeth and I met their president and executive director for dinner a couple years ago and to my surprise I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors. I have since assumed the job of secretary for the organization. In the last couple years I have had the pleasure to give Power Point presentations on Conservation Florida to several civic groups in Citrus County.
In giving these talks I try to express the need for much more conservation of environmentally sensitive lands. We are at a crossroad in Florida and need to act now. The real need is to connect wildlife refuges, parks and conservation areas together with wildlife corridors as documented in the films produced by the Florida Wildlife Corridor project. You can visit them on the internet. Here at home we need to connect the Withlacoochee State Forest with the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
Funding for land purchases in the State through the Florida Forever program has been slashed drastically over the past 8 years and there is no relief in sight. This is in spite of the passage of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment in 2014.
This has put the pressure on private land saving groups like Conservation Florida. I now know firsthand how much work, time, money and efforts go into getting this done. Conservation Florida has managed to protect over 25,000 acres of land since 1999. We are always in need of contributions to continue our work. Currently we have an executive director, an assistant director, a director of conservation, two consultants and four interns on staff. We have an operating budget near half a million dollars and we are the only regional land trust in the State accredited by the Land Trust Alliance chartered to work state wide.
I am asking that this coming Giving Tuesday that you consider helping us by making a small gift. You can do so on social media or by visiting our website at conserveflorida.org. Let us keep Saving Florida. For Nature. For People. Forever.