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Newnans Lake Cypress Preserve Will Be First Park With On-Site Caretaker

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Kevin Ratkus, Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Department's environmental specialist, inspects an area of the 23-acre plot of land that would be overlooked and maintained by a county-contracted caretaker.
Kevin Ratkus, Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Department's environmental specialist, inspects an area of the 23-acre plot of land that would be overlooked and maintained by a county-contracted caretaker.

Alachua County is seeking applicants for a unique new position.

The Newnans Lake Cypress Preserve will soon receive a makeover from a county-contracted caretaker, making it the first county site to offer an opportunity for hunting in exchange for care-taking services.

The Board of County Commissioners is seeking applicants to fill a part-time caretaker position on the 23-acre plot of land nearly six miles east of Gainesville. The caretaker will provide maintenance and security services on the preserve over a five-year contract in exchange for limited hunting opportunities on the land, according to Kevin Ratkus, environmental specialist with the county’s Environmental Protection Department.

“Our goal is to forge our management efforts on the site that saves money for the county while simultaneously providing an opportunity to hunt for a community member,” Ratkus said.

The care-taking opportunity follows the county commission’s January passage of  the Alachua County Forever Hunting Business Plan which approved recreational hunting on some properties acquired through land purchases and conservation programs.

The caretaker’s responsibilities include performing site inspections, cleaning and maintaining the property, removing trash from the entrance and installing boundary “no trespassing” signs.

The plot of land consists of multiple diverse habitats such as a floodplain swamp, a black water stream, an upland hardwood forest and a bottomland forest. Ratkus noted that although the plot is quite small, it has a variety of wildlife because it’s connected to the cypress floodplain which surrounds the nearly 7,000-acre kidney-shaped Newnans Lake.

According to the Board of County Commissioners’ Request for Proposals, the selected applicant will be permitted to hunt animals including deer, turkeys, gray squirrels and raccoons within the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s limits.

“Hunting is necessary in a lot of cases to keep wildlife populations at a healthy level,” said Tony Young, a media relations coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s a management tool. Without hunting, lots of animals would outgrow their habitats.”

Because only one local hunter applied for the position before the proposal’s initial Sept. 25 deadline, the county has extended the application cutoff to Oct. 8, according to Alachua County Purchasing Division employee Matt Stevens.

Stevens said interested parties are required to attend a site visit at the preserve on Oct. 8 at 8:30 a.m. in order to complete the application process.

Ratkus explained that the county is seeking applicants who display good productivity and communication skills as well as someone who will hold up his or her side of the agreement.

He attributes the position’s limited applicant pool to the site’s relatively small acreage and southeastern location in the county.

“Proximity to where they (the hunters) live is important,” he said. “They have to be in tune with that region so it’s easy to get there if we need help or if they just need to check on things. Part of the help here is security, having another set of eyes on the site that we don’t have to be worried with.”

About Jaime Sloane

Jaime is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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(Josh Kimble/ WUFT News)

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