After nearly a decade, Turkey Creek Preserve is open to the public.
The park gates were opened for the community during a soft opening Saturday. Exuding a peaceful stillness, the park features wide pathways shadowed by greenery and broken up by bubbling streams.
There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 1, said Charlie Houder, director of Alachua County Parks and Conservation Lands.
Bordering San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, west of Northwest 59th Terrace and north of Northwest 93rd Avenue, the preserve harbors almost a mile of Turkey Creek’s waters, which ripple into the Floridan aquifer.
The land was bought in 2009 for nearly $4 million as part of the Alachua County Forever Program and backed by funds from the county’s Wild Spaces Public Places Sales Tax and Florida Communities Trust. A management plan for the property was approved in 2012.
This project took longer than it usually would to open a park, Houder said.
“The county wants to do things properly,” Houder said. “We want to make sure that the public has a good experience when they visit the property, so we have taken our time on understanding the property.”
The county put more effort into developing Turkey Creek Preserve than its other properties, Houder said, with park features like nicer trailheads.
Another feature sets Turkey Creek apart from the county’s other recently opened preserve: parking. Four Creeks Preserve — about two miles away from Turkey Creek — opened in 2019 after neighborhood opposition stopped the county from building a parking lot that would allow widespread access.
The lack of access to public land frustrated hopeful visitors, including 58-year-old Alachua County resident Teresa Bruckner.
In January, Bruckner initiated a series of email exchanges with city and county commissioners expressing her dismay at how the opinions of a few members of one community carried enough weight to be able to prevent a parking lot from being built.
“I love the Wild Spaces Program,” Bruckner said. “I love living in a county where people are willing to vote to raise their own taxes so that they can acquire land for conservation and recreation. But I started to become concerned that if people don’t have access to the land they paid for, they might not want to continue their support of the program.”
At Turkey Creek, even people who live outside of the surrounding neighborhood can easily visit. She wishes the same was possible at Four Creeks, where she tried to visit about two months ago but couldn’t find parking close enough.
Even though she is excited about this new park, Buckner still wants to be able to experience Four Creeks.
However, she was delighted to feel that commissioners valued her input by quickly acknowledging her concerns. While she is still uncertain whether any parking can be added at Four Creeks, Buckner will feel comfortable following up with them in a few weeks, she said.
Several other aspects of the development process contributed to the prolonged opening of Turkey Creek’s roughly 375-acre property.
There was a wild hog population that had to be controlled, in addition to other invasive species, Houder said. The engineers on the project experienced setbacks connecting the park to the street along the southside of the property, he said. Timber harvesting, specifically of planted slash pines, was another key part of getting the land ready for public use, he said. This helped to restore the land to its historical natural state.
The preserve features about 4.5 miles of marked trails, including one with exercise stations. The trailhead at Northwest 93rd Avenue has parking, while another at Northwest 59th Terrace is accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and horseback riders.
“Anybody who likes San Felasco Hammock will love this property as well,” Houder said. “We always hope that people get a greater appreciation for the natural beauty and ecological diversity in Alachua County.”