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Orange Lake Overlook Conservation Efforts Turn Up Short

With a loan of $1 million and outside fundraising, the Alachua Conservation Trust is just shy of its goal to save Orange Lake Overlook.

The site is just south of McIntosh on U.S. 441 and has a little run down building with a windmill next to it and an amazing view behind it. Alachua Conservation Trust Executive Director Tom Kay said for many Marion County residents, it means the world. "People come here, and they had their first date or they were proposed to up here or it's some place where it's kind of where they come to that's sort of spiritual or sacred to them. People come for church services for Easter, or a place where they just kind of come to remember someone they loved," he said. Orange Lake Overlook is a piece of Florida's history that Floridians have only three days left to save. As of now, Alachua Conservation Trust is $135,000 away shy of the amount it needs to close on the property. It's a property where local artists like Jeff Ripple find inspiration. He said he has seen things like this happen before. "It used to be orange groves and then when the freezes hit, the orange groves were gone and there were pines and now there's just houses crawling up and down that hill and they all look alike, just little cookie cutter houses all over," he said. He refuses to see it happen here.​ "That is my great fear for this is that some developer will come in, and there will be a whole swath of cookie cutter houses down where the cows and the birds and everything and someone very special would have a lake view probably and that's just wrong, it's a view that belongs to everyone," Ripple said.​ And it isn't just about the view. The little run down building on U.S. 441 used to be the town's favorite spot for orange juice. In the past, the whole property was filled with orange groves. People could come here for fresh juice, go up the stairs, stand at the very top and catch a beautiful view of Orange Lake.​ Kay says the freezes in 1983 and 1984 were the end of the citrus groves at the site, and he wants them back. "We're going to try and get it conserved either way," Kay said. "We've been going on this and working on this for over a year, so we don't want to let it slip away. I think the community will step up and support us one way or another.​" Alachua Conservation Trust said it is closing on the property whether it gets the money in time or not, even if it means taking out a loan.

Nicole is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.