Alachua County is receiving a new state forest.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and the Florida Forest Service recently announed plans to unveil the state’s 36th forest: Newnans Lake State Forest.
The 1,000-plus acres of diverse land west of Newnans Lake in Gainesville will provide bicycle and hiking trails for the public in spring 2015.
“The Florida Forest Service is excited to provide yet another opportunity for residents to enjoy Florida’s great outdoors,” Putnam said in a press release. “Newnans Lake State Forest will be a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and families to discover the many benefits our natural resources have to offer.”
The last state forest added to North Central Florida, Indian Lake State Forest in Marion County, was acquired in 2006 after four years of finalizing a $76-million deal through a partnership with the state’s Florida Forever program, Nature Conservancy and the Marion County Commission.
Newnans Lake State Forest will be the seventh forest in the Waccasassa Foresty Center field unit consisting of Alachua, Putnam, Gilchrist, Marion and Levy counties.
The forest was previously owned by the Florida Department of Corrections. The property housed a former correctional institution on-site, said Erin Gillespie, press secretary for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
That building portion of the correctional institution was sold to the City of Gainesville in 2013 for about $1.4 million, where it was rehabilitated this past summer as a homeless center, Grace Marketplace.
The remaining land’s lease was transferred from the Florida Department of Corrections to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Because the transaction was between state agencies, Gillespie said the Florida Forest Service received the land at no cost.
Rick Dolan, operations administrator for the Waccasassa Foresty Center of the Florida Forest Service, said the process for obtaining the land was fairly smooth.
John Pricher, executive director of Visit Gainesville, said, “The main calling card for our area, in terms of leisure, is the nature around us.”
Gainesville’s abundance of hiking, horse and bicycle trails in such close proximity to one another makes the city enticing for visitors, he said.
The state forest will offer new trails for hikers and bicyclists as well as act as a future site for Operation Outdoor Freedom events. Florida’s wounded veterans will be able to participate in outdoor activities such as hunting wild turkey and fishing on state property.
“It provides them a setting in which they can relax and participate with other veterans while sharing similar stories,” said David Hunt, assistant state program coordinator for Operation Outdoor Freedom.
In addition to recreational uses, the Florida Forest Service will also manage timber resources and plant over 100 acres of longleaf pine trees, Dolan said. Although construction and reforestation efforts have yet to begin on-site, the forest will be open to the public by next spring.
Dolan said the Florida Forest Service is working on developing a 10-year plan for the state forest that outlines the management direction the forest will follow.
“Any opportunity to manage and conserve the lands is a good opportunity for everybody,” he said.