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Florida’s Nature Coast Conservancy works to preserve Cedar Key

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By The Staff

Florida’s Nature Coast Conservancy (FNCC) was founded in Cedar Key  by Captain Rob Crane and the founding board of directors in 1993. It is a non-profit corporation in Florida and an IRS 501c3 designated land trust. As a land trust its business is to own land in trust for preservation, conservation and or public recreation.The FNCC also encourages and assists local governments; as well as other land trusts in the acquisition and preservation of environmentally endangered lands suitable for recreation, preservation or conservation. In addition, the FNCC now owns land, water and easements in perpetuity for the purpose of preservation and limited public recreation.   FNCC’s first project was to convince the state of Florida that Atsena Otie should be acquired and preserved by the state of Florida. During the early 1990s proposed development of Atsena Otie included lot sales and housing. The FNCC encouraged and lobbied for public acquisition. The island is the historical land site of Cedar Keys including a pencil factory and it was occupied until the hurricane 1896. It is an environmental jewel setting just south of Cedar Key. The effort to convince the state or an agency of the state to acquire it did result in acquisition by the Suwannee River Water Management District. The island, its beaches and trails today are open to the public and the property is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The markers and gravestones of the historic cemetery have been faithfully and carefully restored under the leadership of FNCC board member Erik Brogren.               A second project included the preparation of a grant application to the Florida Communities Trust (FCT), an agency in the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The FNCC attended meetings of the FCT in Ocala and Tallahassee to forward the acquisition of the Cedar Key railroad trestle. The trestle was then owned by Cedar Key Development Company, Inc. which was a willing seller of the trestle lands. The purpose was to provide a walking trail and overlooks connecting the Cedar Key Park with Kiss-me-quick area at Grove Street. This did require a pedestrian bridge connecting the north and south parts of the old trestle. The acquisition of the entire property, including the depot site and construction of the bridge with a minimum 16’ clearance above high tide was approved by the FCT. However, the bridge did cause public concern and it was abandoned. Thus the FCT withdrew its offer to acquire the trestle. However, the trestle owners generously did offer a conservation easement to the FNCC for public trail use along the north reach of the trestle. The trail today is open for public daytime pedestrian use. Native plants along the trail have been identified with markers and a bit of history about each plant provided by FNCC board member Dr. Lovett Williams. The FNCC with a great deal of help from the late Mac McCain developed the trail and maintains it along with very welcomed help of the City of Cedar Key. Today’s owner, Natures Landing Condominium Association has continued to make the trail easement available to the FNCC and the public.      Cedar Key Cemetery Point Park belongs to the city of Cedar Key. Development has proceeded with a recreation grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The FNCC partnered with the City of Cedar Key and prepared the original application to the Florida Communities Trust and in 2002 the acquisition became a reality. The FNCC continues to advise and assist in the on going development of the park. Section 29 in Cedar Key which at onetime encompassed virtually all of the islands of today’s Cedar Key became our next goal. The section reaches from Scale Key to Cemetery Point and North along the sides of SR 24. In 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Taylor granted to the FNCC the residual of the historic Section 29. Section 29 was the historic land description of all of the historic area of Cedar Key. It is today, more than 450 acres of water and oyster bars and a few small islands. This project’s basic purpose is conservation and preservation. It is also managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of its Cedar Keys and Lower Suwannee Refuges.     The FNCC has recently received the gift of property from the heirs of Jack Jones; formally of Cedar Key. The property is again mostly water and very small low tidal uplands. This project is the residual of Cedar Key Shores subdivision and lies west of Gulf Boulevard. Its purpose will be conservation and preservation. The FNCC has joined with The Conservation Fund in an application to the Florida Communities Trust for a grant to acquire Chambers Island. Chambers Island is located at the end of the Withlacoochee River in the Gulf of Mexico. However, at this time state funds for endangered lands are not available.  The FNCC also continues to support the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association in its efforts to keep Cedar Key land and water clean.