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State buys Cherokee plantation for Red Hills conservation project

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has completed the purchase of so-called nature reserves on the Cherokee Plantation, about six miles north of Tallahassee, for $8.2 million.

The 4,808-acre property is one of five tracts of land in Leon and Jefferson counties that are part of the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever Project, a 17,875-acre wildlife, wetland and groundwater recharge protection initiative launched in 2019.

From Old Centerville Road, the tract of land extends approximately seven and a half miles over rolling hills, intersects Thomasville Road/US 319 and reaches Lake Iamonia.

More than half of the Foshalee Slough, which is hydrologically connected to both the Ochlocknee River and Lake Iamonia, as well as a forest menagerie of oak, hickory, dogwood and pine trees lie on the property.

The land was part of a pre-Civil War plantation that grew corn and cotton, and was used for quail hunting in the 20th century.

Protecting Florida’s “unique natural landscapes”

In recent years, the property has been on the list of objects for two initiatives:

  • The Florida Wildlife Corridor – a three-year project to connect 18 million acres (roughly the size of South Carolina) of forests, Florida wildlife refuges and state parks.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense Northwest Florida Sentinel Landscape is a coastal risk mitigation initiative for the Panhandle's nine military bases.

The DEP recommended the purchase to “preserve a large, undeveloped tract of land in an area with high development potential.” Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved the purchase without discussion at a September meeting.

“These types of purchases are essential to further protect our water, wildlife and our state’s unique natural landscapes,” DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said in a prepared statement.

Cherokee is the second Gem Land Company plantation to be placed under a conservation easement as part of the Red Hills Conservation Florida Forever project. The state also acquired an easement for the 4,101-acre Norias Plantation in 2022 for $4.7 million.

What is a conservation easement?

  • Under a conservation easement, a piece of land is permanently protected from development, but the landowner can continue his current agricultural activities.
  • Natural areas on the easement property remain natural; commercial or industrial activities, such as the extraction of oil, gas, minerals, water and more, as well as the construction of new roads, are all prohibited.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com and on X as @CallTallahassee.

Anna Harden

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