SAVE WARDS CREEK IN JEFFERSON COUNTY!

N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
Wards Creed, a 3700 acre tract that has been "managed" by the State Forest Service is in jeopardy of being loss to public access for recreation, including hunting. The property is adjacent to Lake Miccosukiee and has been open 24/7/365 to the public since 1898. It is a beautiful array of wet bottoms with some areas dry most of the time and a lot of the area dry during dry times.

Somehow, (I will be kind and not claim a conspiracy) the land was put on the June 14 ARC agenda, a motion made and the ARC voted to "surplus" the land. The land was not on the annual list of lands to be considred for surplus sales or transfer.

This set in motion a 40 day period which is ending next week for Jefferson Cty. to have a "first right" to make arrangements to take over the property. There have been a couple of fast meetings of stakeholders...lots of opposition, some TV and news articles in the area..And, there will be an "emergency special meeting" by the Jefferson Cty. Commissioners on this coming Monday night.

UNITED WATERFOWLERS-FL has been working with other groups and has had one of our leaders on the case for several days trying to STOP the CLOCK and demanding proper public meetings with a comment period.

We are suggesting the property simply be left alone as it is, perfectly acceptable to the many who recreate there today.....or be assigned to the FWC for management as a Public Use Area.

NOW WE NEED YOUR HELP

The final decision rests with several of Governor Scott's cabinet (and the Gov.). UW-F will be doing a E-News on the issue to generate emails, letters and phone calls to the people who will be making the decision. Please do your part by emailing the list below....

Dear xxxx
I am contacting you in opposition to the proposal to surplus 3700 acres of wetlands in Jefferson County known as Wards Creek. The area has been open to the public for recreation 24/7/365 for decades and is enjoyed by many local residents and visitors. Unfortunately, the ARC voted to surplus the property without public input on June 14 and we have only recently learned of that decision. A very large number of stakeholders are now reacting to this threatened loss of access for recreation to land belonging to Florida's taxpayers. Please vote NO to any change regarding this property until a proper public comment period has been observed.

Sincerely,

.................
The targets:

Governor Rick Scott (rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com)
Attorney General Pam Bondi (pam.bondi@myfloridalegal.com)
Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (adam.putnam@freshfromflorida.com)
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater (Jeff.Atwater@myfloridacfo.com)

UW-F (uw-f.org) thanks all for helping on this matter!

see: https://www.facebook.com/SaveWardsCreek
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Replies

  • pbsnookerpbsnooker Posts: 879 Officer
    No problem!
  • LickskilletLickskillet Posts: 168 Officer
    Emails Sent!
    Is it bow season yet??
  • kc hunterkc hunter Posts: 319 Officer
    Sent
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    lots of influential donors in that area,gonna b a tuff one...u know $$$$$$ trumps public access especially in tally...good luck boys ur gonna need it.
  • huntmstrhuntmstr Posts: 6,284 Admiral
    I've never hunted the place. I spoke with Susan Grandin - Director of State Lands and she stated that Forestry held the lease and no longer felt it was needed in their inventory. FWC apparently didn't want to take the lease and neither did any of the other state agencies or state schools. I have no problems with it staying open as a hunting tract under state ownership. But if it does, there needs to be some way to pay for the property besides general funds. If it remains open, it will probably be with some form of user fee. Otherwise, as written into the state statutes, DEP is well within their right to sell it. Not saying I want to see anyone lose public hunting lands. But the bitter reality is that unless there is clearly a need to keep the property under its original intended purpose at time of purchase, it's hard to justify the expense of maintaining it solely for public hunting when it's not even part of the WMA system and does not qualify under the no-net-loss legislation.

    It's also my understanding that Tall Timbers - which adjoins the tract- has their eyes on it. If that's the case, it will probably end up as theirs pretty soon.
    Bushnell, Primos and Final Approach Pro Staff. Proud member of the Fab Five, Big Leaugers and Bobble Head 4.

    I had you pissed off at hello.
  • GlennGlenn Posts: 1,660 Officer
    huntmstr wrote: »
    I've never hunted the place. I spoke with Susan Grandin - Director of State Lands and she stated that Forestry held the lease and no longer felt it was needed in their inventory. FWC apparently didn't want to take the lease and neither did any of the other state agencies or state schools. I have no problems with it staying open as a hunting tract under state ownership. But if it does, there needs to be some way to pay for the property besides general funds. If it remains open, it will probably be with some form of user fee. Otherwise, as written into the state statutes, DEP is well within their right to sell it. Not saying I want to see anyone lose public hunting lands. But the bitter reality is that unless there is clearly a need to keep the property under its original intended purpose at time of purchase, it's hard to justify the expense of maintaining it solely for public hunting when it's not even part of the WMA system and does not qualify under the no-net-loss legislation.

    It's also my understanding that Tall Timbers - which adjoins the tract- has their eyes on it. If that's the case, it will probably end up as theirs pretty soon.

    I hate to see any lost public hunting opportunities but if someone like Tall Timbers were to purchase it at least it would go to good hands.
  • bswivbswiv Posts: 6,830 Admiral
    huntmstr wrote: »
    I've never hunted the place. I spoke with Susan Grandin - Director of State Lands and she stated that Forestry held the lease and no longer felt it was needed in their inventory. FWC apparently didn't want to take the lease and neither did any of the other state agencies or state schools. I have no problems with it staying open as a hunting tract under state ownership. But if it does, there needs to be some way to pay for the property besides general funds. If it remains open, it will probably be with some form of user fee. Otherwise, as written into the state statutes, DEP is well within their right to sell it. Not saying I want to see anyone lose public hunting lands. But the bitter reality is that unless there is clearly a need to keep the property under its original intended purpose at time of purchase, it's hard to justify the expense of maintaining it solely for public hunting when it's not even part of the WMA system and does not qualify under the no-net-loss legislation.

    It's also my understanding that Tall Timbers - which adjoins the tract- has their eyes on it. If that's the case, it will probably end up as theirs pretty soon.

    As was discussed in the other thread on Wards Creek the land will be sold with a CONSERVATION EASEMENT on it, a easement that precludes the harvest of cypress. It's also worth noting that the property has very little in the way of uplands that could be used for silvaculture or row crops. In fact the conservation easement may even end up with a clause preventing "conversion", which would mean that even if such areas are there they may not be used legally.

    This being the case, and understanding that the easement ( Yes it is still in a draft state....... ) will contain a prohibition on any sort of mining or extraction of water the value of the land itself will be VERY low. We are talking jurisdictional wetlands on most of it, assuming what I see on the maps is correct, which also means another restriction on use.

    Finally, again depending on the wording of the easement it's a fair expectation that there will be a proscription on the building of structures on it and most likely a severe restriction on additional road construction. And you can bet that draining of any sort will be off the table.

    The end result is that the land will stay basically natural and have little if any potential for INCOME production......except as a hunting preserve of a ecological retreat.

    With this the land value could be in the $400-600 range when it goes up for sale........and mind you it must be put up for public bid.

    Might even be less than that...........

    Point.........with money available at 4% or less.........we are talking a sale that might generate $2 million at best which results in a monthly payment of less than $6500. So do some math here......basically $80,000 a year ( figuring in property taxes ) to OWN the place.

    So you get 30 members, they toss down $10,000 each and then $2500 each a year.......and you have a PRIVATE hunting paradise.

    And eventually you will have it paid for..........

    Who's in?
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    There is some ambiguity about the sovereign submerged lands issue that may cloud who can actually own the narrow strip with a clear title...

    What I believe is happening here...and Tall Timbers can be involved...is another attempt by the "priviledged" adjacent land owners to pick up a nice piece of public land which will get the pesky public off their boundaries and allow them to sell lucrative hunting leases...Not unlike the legislative attempts to move the Average High Water Level down toward the water giving the adjacent landowner all the land once belonging to the public and with public access for hunting...and, just last year, the attempt to allow adjacent land owners to put aside some of their natural lands as a Conservation Easement and be "paid" with adjacent Public Land....

    Always, it seems the public hunter (or any recreation) loses out and the adjacent landowner profits....These incidents are not accidents!

    This land is currently costing little or nothing to "manage"...and has cost little or nothing for over 100 years. At the same time it has offered a place for public land hunters to access for standard hunting seasons. The land is under the jurisdiction of all the law enforcement agencies, including the FWC, today and will be under the same protection whoever owns the property. As said before, if the adjacent land owners are having a problem with trespass as there is no fence....They should pay for their own fence and call the LEOs if people cross into their properties....

    Losing public hunting land open to all is serious business and once gone you will never get it back.

    Incidentally, the state is supposed to replace any such loss of public hunting with new public hunting land of equal quality....but, the loop holes on that law are wide and I know of no such new lands being opened.
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    Did someone say FWC doesn't want it?
  • huntmstrhuntmstr Posts: 6,284 Admiral
    Newton, you should know that No Net Loss legislation set a minimum acreage for which the state can not drop below. Since the time that legislation passed, Florida has added in excess of 140,000 acres to public land hunting. That's why they could afford to lose Mallory Swamp and Ft. McCoy without replacing them. It's not a loop hole. It's the way the law was written.

    Rich, FWC obviously didn't want it. Eric Sutton (Director of Habitat and Species Conservation for FWC) is the ARC member who made the motion to approve sale of the tract in the first place.

    As for the sovereign submerged lands, in order for that to apply, navigability of the tributary or a history of commerce along the waterway in question must be shown. Ward Creek is not much of a creek. It's less of a waterway than parts of Econfina Creek which actually drops under ground and disappears complete in places. Proving navigability and thereby sovereign submerged status is a real stretch. But I wish you guys luck. You're going to need it.
    Bushnell, Primos and Final Approach Pro Staff. Proud member of the Fab Five, Big Leaugers and Bobble Head 4.

    I had you pissed off at hello.
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    I think its pisspoor for FWC not to want any land offered...but i'm sure politics$$$$$ trump sound management decisions.
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    its funny how FWC has no problem writing tickets on sov lands off the kiss river with no boundary markers,but they can't enforce this pc of property,and it "offers no public hunting opportunity"
  • LickskilletLickskillet Posts: 168 Officer
    Its because accessing it is somewhat difficult. Navigation as well. If they cant wait for ya at the boat ramp or where you parked they dont want much to do with it. The creek splits two pieces of property, one of them being a big $$ plantation. They think everyone that hunts there are killing "their" deer. Ever tried deer hunting that lake bottom when it goes dry? They believe the dry land is theirs too. I guess thats what happens when a lake is surrounded by plantations that are owned by rich yankees. I guarantee you Mays Pond wants it made private!
    Is it bow season yet??
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    I do believe there is a "back story" to this.....and, the FWC did "evaluate" the area and decided they could not make it a WMA....there are expenses involved as they do require a good boundary and signing, etc....However, that is not the point of this issue...This property has been open to all the public for decades with little or no cost to the State Forest Division and it could simply be "left alone" as is....

    If the adjacent land owners have complaints about "trespassing" as there is no fence....let them pay for doing the survey and building their fences.....Ahhh....but that is not the way things work when you have an agenda to take over adjacent public land or to neutralize any public access along your fence lines.....

    If the FWC wanted to they could do the survey, boundary marking and make it a PUA which is basically what it is now....open to all, and state hunting regulations apply....I do not fault them too much under the current budget restrictions...but, the FWC should not be facilitating the loss of public hunting land......period.
  • FloridaODFloridaOD Posts: 3,006 Captain
    N. Cook's statement above worth reading and reflecting on again and again......
    Hunters are present yet relatively uncommon in Florida :wink
  • LickskilletLickskillet Posts: 168 Officer
    ^^^^^^ What he said
    Is it bow season yet??
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    yup....very pathetic that OUR land is freely given up by THEM without OUR input......$$$$$

    BOHICA
  • BuckDaddyBuckDaddy Posts: 644 Officer
    This is a matter of principle... Thanks for standing up for what is right, Newton !!!

    N. Cook wrote: »
    I do believe there is a "back story" to this.....and, the FWC did "evaluate" the area and decided they could not make it a WMA....there are expenses involved as they do require a good boundary and signing, etc....However, that is not the point of this issue...This property has been open to all the public for decades with little or no cost to the State Forest Division and it could simply be "left alone" as is....

    If the adjacent land owners have complaints about "trespassing" as there is no fence....let them pay for doing the survey and building their fences.....Ahhh....but that is not the way things work when you have an agenda to take over adjacent public land or to neutralize any public access along your fence lines.....

    If the FWC wanted to they could do the survey, boundary marking and make it a PUA which is basically what it is now....open to all, and state hunting regulations apply....I do not fault them too much under the current budget restrictions...but, the FWC should not be facilitating the loss of public hunting land......period.
  • Humble hunterHumble hunter Posts: 446 Officer
    Exactly. Signs, or markers on trees serve the same purpose as a fence. At a much reduced cost. There is no difference between them legally. I don't understand why 1 group would be considered more responsible than the other to mark boundries. Quite frankly if you read the trespass laws. You the land owner are responsible to mark your boundries if you want to keep people off your land. Never read any where that if you want to give people access to your land that you had to mark the borders.
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    I know we have a lot of support on this issue....and thanks for the comments...BUT, we are way behind in the game because of the fast action the ARC took on June 14...(the reply to "no notice" was that they had given "legal" notice as required before the meeting)...as if the average citizen looks up and reads those obscure "notices" in the back pages of newspapers....

    The fact is there was no proper public notice, no public meetings and no discussion by the public prior to the vote....Using "we did what was legally required" as a cover for the vote is insulting to the many taxpayers and stakeholders who have enjoyed full access for decades.

    It will take a flood of emails and contacts to all the bureaucrats involved to stop this...The Gov., Bondi, Putnam and Atwater have the last say, but it would not hurt to include folks at the FWC and State Forestry as well.
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    Some news on this fight to keep this public hunting land.....The Jefferson County Commission voted 4 to 1 to try to have the state make the county the "manager" of the property with a "lease" deal, $300 per year. Dozens of stakeholders were on hand to speak against the loss of Wards Creek to full public access.

    There has been a lot of support from environmental groups, ie the Thousand Friends of Florida and Florida Wildlife Federation...thanks to all of them.....UW-F has a representative meeting with the appropriate Cabinet Aides on the issue in Tallahassee.

    What we are asking for is for the issue to be returned to the ARC for review and a proper public comment period....I believe we may well get that agreement soon...but, meanwhile we are keeping the pressure on....

    I believe if we can get a "pubic comment" period there will be so much opposition to the sale of Wards Creek that a more reasonable arrangement can be made allowing the current full access....

    Thanks to all who have emailed or contacted the Gov. and Cabinet as we work to SAVE WARDS CREEK.
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    Good news..no land lost
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    The UW-F Region Director and Board Member met with the Cabinet Aides today and it seems most probable the issue will be sent back to the ARC for review after a proper public notice and comment period. Thanks to all who have helped put the pressure on the bureaucrats with emails and phone calls, and at least one stakeholder who showed up at a Government Cabinet office to personally protest!

    UW-F is now in a "keep your powder dry" mode until just prior to the expected ARC meeting when we will let all barrels loose on a campaign to be sure ARC understands the strong intention from the Stakeholders to keep WARDS CREEK open for all recreation 24/7/365....
    THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE HELPED WITH THE FIGHT TO SAVE WARDS CREEK!
  • Humble hunterHumble hunter Posts: 446 Officer
    Good deal. I just want to say It will be a good deal if it stays open to the public. By public I mean all Florida residents. A place I like to hunt every now, and than used to be only available to hunt if you showed up at the court house in the county, and stood in line for a permit. Had buddies do this several years in a row. They counted the guys in front of them, and knew they should get a permit. When it was there turn, and showed there I.D. they were told all permits were spoken for. Hillbilly justice at best! Mind you this was state owned land not even county leased. Open to drive in, and public access year round. Now it happens to be in the Quota system. Still had to fend off locals who laid claim to parking spot. Not even a hunting spot. Saying they had been hunting this road for 15, or 20 years.
    I just wish the state could put all of us on an even playing field with no hidden agendas, or favortism.
    Regardless I hope they save the place for hunting, and other access however it may be.
  • N. CookN. Cook Posts: 1,916 Captain
    We will not be happy with anything but full public access....not just to hunting but all legal recreation. The area is currently mostly flooded but during dryer times is mostly "wet" bottom land easily hiked with some dry areas as well. Despite the "response" from the FDEP (after our initial inquiry of how the ARC could vote with no public notice) stating the area had a reputation for poaching and other illegal activities, it seems the FWC officers and Sheriff department in the area can find only a handful of incidents (tickets or arrests) over a number of years. The FDEP also stated the area was not "surveyed"...and of course we were able to supply the bureaucrats photos of stakes from an extensive survey in the past.....Simply stated......there is and was no basis to surplus this property.
  • binellishtrbinellishtr Posts: 7,373 Admiral
    any cookies left in the cookie jar..
  • micci_manmicci_man Somewhere in FLPosts: 12,027 AG
    Thanks for all you and UWF are **** Newton :worthy Without it and the local input this thing would have never gotten this far.


    Hey Chuck, did you send your email/letter yet?
    Common Sense can't be bought, taught or gifted, yet it is one of the few things in life that is free, and most refuse to even attempt to possess it. - Miguel Cervantes
  • Humble hunterHumble hunter Posts: 446 Officer
    Yeah thanks Newton! I wonder how many other properties around the state are just like this 1. Not on the FWC site, but a management area non the less. Just not listed to the public. Some counties just do not want most of the public to know about them until it is almost to late.
  • apstephen61apstephen61 Posts: 10 Greenhorn

    It is happening again....

    It appears that a new landowner is trying to lay the ground work to take the Ward's Creek property. The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in 2013 supporting Ward's Creek staying as State of Florida Public property. We now have reports that State Representative Halsey Beshears has contacted some of the sitting Jefferson County commissioners, inquiring if the resolution would / could be rescinded. If this information is correct ( I fully believe it to be 100% accurate), then the danger is as follows:

    In 2013 FL DEP listed Wards Creek as surplus property. In order for the land to then be sold it needed the approval of the Florida cabinet. Supporters of Ward's Creek were able to stop the sale at that level. Now it is 2018, The action of FL DEP is still valid. If Florida Forestry (the agency which is in charge of the land) decides that the land is indeed again surplus to their needs, they will inform FL DEP. FL DEP then looks for another governmental agency to transfer the land to. Since Jefferson County has expressed an interest in keeping this property public, in theory it could go to the county. However if Jefferson county were to reverse the Resolution that was passed in 2013, then the land could be sold to private individual(s), after the approval of the Florida Cabinet. The new owner is said to be courting some members of the cabinet, and with a new election cycle coming up and with one member wishing to be GOV, and one possibly U.S. Senator....well...MONEY....in the form of donations can change some minds.

    It is reported that the new landowner has also stated that legal action against the State of Florida is a possibility. Keep in mind that this land is submerged sovereign land...so....that should be interesting.

    The new land owner has land on both sides of Ward's Creek. I learned this morning that in an effort to stop legal public hunting on the PUBLIC property, employees of the property baited the creek in effort to keep duck hunters away. FWC has charged the two employees with hunter harassment, baiting in order to keep the public away.

    Supporters of Ward's Creek are once again ready to fight to maintain this property as public just as it has since the Federal Government deeded it to the State of Florida in 1845.

    Please try to find some time to email Rep Beshears and let him know that this is and should remain public property.
    https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/emailrepresentative.aspx?MemberId=4539&SessionId=86

    Please Email Jefferson County Board of commissioners and express continued Support for the Ward's Creek Resolution.

    sfulford@jeffersoncountyfl.gov
    ghall@jeffersoncountyfl.gov
    jtsurles@jeffersoncountyfl.gov
    bbarfield@jeffersoncountyfl.gov
    swalker@jeffersoncountyfl.gov

    The Ward's Creek Facebook page is being updated.

    We will keep Y'all informed.

    Thanks!

  • micci_manmicci_man Somewhere in FLPosts: 12,027 AG
    edited February 6 #31

    I will be sending emails and thanks for the notice!

    I sent you a message as well.

    Common Sense can't be bought, taught or gifted, yet it is one of the few things in life that is free, and most refuse to even attempt to possess it. - Miguel Cervantes
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