Why I Donated Land to Help the Santa Fe River

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Martha A Strawn

Water: Elemental, folks, elemental! The source of life and lots of fun! Water can be catastrophic at times, but it is nonetheless vital.

I grew up in Lake Wales and played in and on the lakes of this ridge. go to Young Girl’s Club Camp at O’Leno State Park and River Rise on the Santa Fe River; trips through Yeehaw Junction to Vero Beach in high school with friends for swimming, games and camaraderie on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean; fishing with my father and great-uncle Gaines on Lakes Weohyakapka and Okeechobee; and vacationing with my parents at Lido Beach on the Gulf of Mexico – all of these activities led to growing up in and around the waters of Florida.

Living along the Santa Fe River, I treasured spring water and learned how rare the major headwaters are in north and central Florida. These springs are natural resources that are national treasures, whether designated as such or not, and as an area represent a global wonder.

Telford Spring is located in Suwannee County and is a second-rate freshwater spring.  The Spring Run empties into the Suwannee River, an Outstanding Florida Water - meaning that the Environmental Regulation Commission has given it a special conservation status for its natural characteristics.  The spring is right next to the Peacock Spring Conservation Area.  ACT successfully preserved Telford Spring and the surrounding 94 acres in the closing days of 2021.

Studying photography with Evon Streetman at Florida State University launched a career that has taken me around the world. Visually, our sources are a mass of diamonds in the sands of the earth, and streams and rivers are ribbons that meander through our landscape and reach the sea.

Having also studied marine biology and oceanography, I have a keen interest in the bodies of water on Earth and how they are maintained – such as how cutting down trees disrupts the water cycle by depleting the plant canopy that allows water to evaporate. Water is precious around the world and we have an abundance of this resource to appreciate if we just want to.

The lands surrounding the springs and rivers, lakes and glades are fundamental. I’m constantly aware of what I’m putting on the ground and how it’s either draining away or being filtered into the aquifer. That’s why I gave land to the Alachua County Trust (ACT).

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Gifts from the land protect the waters. Bodies of water in Florida are essential for both residents and tourists because we all use water in a variety of ways.

As residents, we depend on good water for drinking, cleaning, health, enjoyment, and livelihood. Tourists, who make up a large part of the state’s economy, come to Florida for many reasons. In addition to our wonderful sunshine and warmth, people come to kayak, canoe, paddle, fish, boat, swim, dive, walk our clean beaches, study freshwater and marine life and biodiversity, and enjoy countless other water-based activities.

In particular, saving land along Florida’s rivers is critical. Making this donation to the Alachua Conservation Trust has been an easy and joyful process for me, a process that ACT has facilitated. All I had to do was have my deed, get an appraisal and sign the property.

Little Awesome Preserve is a 195-acre area along the lower Santa Fe River.  The Alachua Conservation Trust outbid a Jacksonville real estate development group at a land auction for the property it bought with a loan from The Conservation Fund.  As part of its Rise Up for the Santa Fe River campaign, ACT is working to protect 75,000 acres of land in the Santa Fe River Basin by 2045.

Land trusts like ACT can accept direct gifts or help you arrange a conservation easement on your property. Conservation easements limit forever any land use that could be harmful to the aquifer beneath your land or along your waterway.

If you wish to improve the quality and quantity of water in Florida’s waterways and springs so future generations can enjoy these wonders, please consider either creating an easement on your land or donating your land to an organization such as Alachua Conservation Trust. Such gifts are important and the result is sooo good for your soul!

Martha A. Strawn is an Emeritus Professor of Art/Photography, photographer, and author/editor of four books. She lives and works in High Springs, Florida and Tryon, North Carolina with her husband, William Latham. She has worked with non-profit organizations in the field of conservation and art for over 50 years. Her exhibition, Across the Threshold of India, is on view May 5 through November 12, 2022 at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design in Raleigh, North Carolina. This column is part of The Sun’s Messages from the Springs Heartland series.

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