Alachua County Forever, the County’s environmental land acquisition program, recently closed on the purchase of a 2,274-acre conservation easement from the Hitchcock family. This property, with a long agricultural history, will now be permanently protected from development to help maintain water quality in the Santa Fe River and habitat for wildlife.
The property provides a vital link between the County’s Mill Creek Preserve and riverfront properties owned by Alachua County and the Suwannee River Water Management District. Together, these properties provide over 4,700 contiguous acres protecting creeks, sinkholes, and seeps that feed the Santa Fe River. The conservation easement will also facilitate the movement of wildlife between protected habitat areas.
Established in 1932, “Santa Fe River Ranch” was well respected as one of the country’s leading registered Polled Hereford ranches. The Hitchcock family acquired the property in stages of acquisition beginning in 2009.
Under the terms of the conservation easement, the current owners may continue cattle grazing and certain other agricultural activities in accordance with best management practices. However, over 25 percent of the property have been designated as Preservation Zones that must be maintained in their natural state. The two event venues and several homesites have been excluded from the conservation easement.
Hitchcock and Sons Inc. and Hitchcocks Ranch LLC, the two entities that own the property, will receive a total of $5.6 million from the conservation easement sale. Based on appraisals obtained by Alachua County, the purchase price reflects a donation of over $260,000 by the owners. Funding was provided by Wild Spaces and Public Places, the voter-approved, one-half-cent sales tax.
Since County voters reauthorized Wild Spaces and Public Places in 2016, Alachua County Forever has protected an additional 8,098 acres. The program has protected 27,952 acres since its inception in 2000.