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Creets Landing in Navarre is part of a growing conservation trend in Florida

Creets Landing in Navarre.
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Creets Landing in Navarre.

Drive all the way down Crescent Wood Road in Navarre and you’ll come across the future site of Creets Landing, 545 acres of natural land that will be conserved for wildlife and recreation.

While the south end of the county has struggled with a lack of infrastructure to handle the residential developments being built in the last several years, this news offers a nice reprieve and has received positive support.

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“The most vocal in our community are extremely supportive of further land acquisition,” said Naisy Dolar, grants and RESTORE program manager for Santa Rosa County. “This sort of sets a precedent to potentially allow the county to demonstrate what it's going to take to maintain land for conservation and passive recreation that's beyond a park or a beach park.”

“It’s a legacy for the community,” she said.

The Creets Landing project is just one example of a growing trend of conservation efforts in the state. Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida cabinet approved a $141 million investment to expand Florida’s Wildlife Corridor by more than 42,000 acres. The acquisition includes 1,546 acres in the Wolfe Creek Forest in Santa Rosa County. According to a press release from the governor’s office, more than 100,000 acres of land throughout the state have been approved for acquisition this calendar year alone.

Acquiring land is a collaborative process, said Dolar. Former District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech and other elected officials, along with residents, and agencies such as the Trust for Public Land came together to identify land with a willing seller. The total purchase price for Creets Landing was a little over $3 million.

“It was a collaborative effort between a grant with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the states, Fish and Wildlife Commission, along with a contribution from Santa Rosa County,” said Dolar. “We split the cost. Santa Rosa County contributed approximately $1.7 million.”

From the Crescent Wood Road entrance of the property — which is only a mile away from busy Highway 98 — you’re transported to a completely different landscape. The sounds of highway traffic are replaced with birds chirping. All you can see are trees and natural flora.

The parcels of land, which sit along the East River are perfect habitats for endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and the reticulated flatwoods salamander, and threatened species including the eastern indigo snake and the gopher tortoise. The project plans are to create a “passive recreation area,” said Dolar with hiking trails and spaces for wildlife viewing. But that will take some time.

Naisy Dolar
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Naisy Dolar

“The vision is ultimately going to be dependent upon a land management plan that really first and foremost protects the land,” she said. “Then further would be passive recreation in which people can possibly spot a reticulated salamander or just kind of listening to the quietness that is not available in Navarre.”

Conservation is a benefit to wildlife, but it can also support resiliency for flood and extreme weather events as well as provide a buffer for military installations since the property is adjacent to Eglin Air Force Base.

“Our local military is very interested in continuing to have the buffer because it protects their base as well as allows for more habitat for the wildlife that is already living on the unincorporated parts of the base,” she said.

To keep the conservation trend going, Dolar said the county needs partnership and feedback from the community.

“I suspect it’s going to be continuously positive because we’ve been getting a lot of proposals of various pieces of land,” she said. “There’s been a lot of suggestions, so we’re finding ways to further vet those opportunities.”

A key component of conservation is finding people who are willing to sell land for conservation. And she invites them to reach out.

“I think it's important to understand that habitat is rare now for the wildlife that we have in Northwest Florida,” said Dolar. “And if there are willing sellers out there that own property, I would say come forward and let us know if you want to keep your property in conservation.”

Dara Hartigan, president of the advocacy group Save Our Soundside, has been a vocal opponent to the practice of clear-cutting land to make way for housing developments. Like Dolar, she pointed out the benefits natural land has to stormwater runoff, which has been a growing concern for residents.

“Remember, nature takes care of things like stormwater runoff with wetlands, trees, and salt marshes, and it's all free,” she said in an email. “The millions we spend on stormwater drainage systems cannot duplicate it, especially in an area like the peninsula. We must be proactive.”

Hartigan said she wants to see more conservation and added that Save Our Soundside has submitted a number of small parcels to the county for consideration.

“What isn't being clear cut and developed for housing on the peninsula is being paved over,” said Hartigan in an email. “Commercial development has been primarily limited to storage units, tire/oil change garages, car washes, and giant gas stations (with accompanying underground petroleum tanks), and unfortunately our surrounding water bodies are suffering. It's the old adage — what happens on the land affects the water.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.