Suwannee Ridge Wildlife Environmental Area, which occupies 1,428 acres of land in southern Hamilton County, could see an array of improvements if Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s plan to renovate areas within the park is passed.
FWC will present the 10-year Suwannee Ridge management plan that aims to improve habitat restoration of local species, including various threatened and endangered species, on Oct. 3 in Jasper.
David Alden, senior conservation planner at FWC, said the area would not be undergoing any major facility changes.
Hiking trails and parking areas will be improved and maintained. Hunting opportunities will also be made accessible to mobility impaired people, Alden said.
“The plan is to make the area more accessible to the public,” he said.
The park, located between the cities of Jasper and Live Oak, offers recreational activities like fishing, hunting and eight miles of nature trails to visitors.
Founded in 2002 by FWC, Suwannee Ridge serves as a rehabilitation space for local endangered and threatened species, like the gopher tortoise, which is listed as threatened by the state.
The protection of the gopher tortoise was important, Alden said, as it allowed the state to receive mitigation funds to purchase the land.
Monitoring and supporting local wildlife is a core purpose of the Suwannee Ridge, which is home to species such as the Mississippi Kite, Eastern Indigo Snake and white quail.
Suwannee Ridge has an annual recreational carrying capacity of 9,125 individuals, according to Alden. These visitors help support the park’s 18 employees.
Improving FWC’s plan and managing the park for the next 10 years is expected to cost about $909,000, Alden said. Money from the Conservation and Recreation Lands trust fund cover the costs.
Officials from FWC will discuss the plan during a public hearing Thursday Oct. 3 at the Hamilton County Commission Chambers, 207 NE 1st Street, Jasper, Fla.
“We’ll be meeting to get public input on what we’re trying to do,” Alden said.
After the hearing, the plan will be internally approved by FWC, he said. It will then be submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of State Lands, after which it will receive final delegation by the Acquisition and Restoration Council.
The council will also hold a public hearing for final input on the plan in Tallahassee.
“The process may take between eight months and one year,” Alden said.