Seven hundred fifteen acres that were once slated to be a residential area in Alachua County instead opened on Saturday – National Public Lands Day – as Four Creeks Nature Preserve.
Visitors can now enjoy a 2.5-mile walking trail to explore the preserve, located east of Northwest 43rd Street and west of U.S. 441 in Gainesville. The Turkey Creek Forest residential area is just north of the property; the Mile Run and Sutters Landing communities are to the south.
Pedestrians and dogs on leashes are welcome at the preserve, but bicycles, horses and motor vehicles are not. It is accessible from two walk-in entrances on the north and south ends.
Andi Christman is the senior environmental specialist at the Alachua County Department of Parks and Conservation Lands – and the property’s site manager. She told WUFT News last week that she was pleased how quickly the site was developed for public access.
“It provides the community an opportunity to connect with nature and find a place to recharge and refuel; maybe find some peace on a busy day,” Christman said. “Those things are critical to the quality of life that we have here in Alachua County.”
The county and city together bought the property in 2018 from a Boca Raton developer. The county paid $2.9 million for 467 acres; the city spent $1.5 million for 245. They funded it partially through the Wild Spaces Public Places half-percent sales tax that voters approved in 2016.
The trail extends across both the city and county’s portions of Four Creeks. Turkey Creek, Blues Creek, Possum Creek and Hogtown Creek all have a home on the preserve. Its long-term management plan is still being developed, with other trails expected to open there in the future.
Residents in Mile Run and Sutters Landing expressed concern during the summer about temporary plans for visitors to the preserve to park their vehicles along 37th Street.
Christman said a better sense is needed of how the community will use the site, and what parts of the preserve would be used for different kinds of recreation. That way, she said, development teams can determine the most efficient parking location as well as a trailhead.
Charlie Houder, the director of the parks and conservation lands department, said the land was originally planned to be a residential neighborhood before it was offered to the county.
“We were fortunate enough to make a deal,” Houder said.