Your Questions Answered
Every year, millions of people visit public conservation lands purchased by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) and its partners to protect Florida’s water resources. Ellen Morgan Morrison, the District’s Operations and Land Management Assistant Bureau Chief explains more about District owned and managed lands and how the public can enjoy these properties.
Q: Why does the Southwest Florida Water Management District buy lands?
A: One of the main ways the District carries out its mission of balancing water needs and protecting the environment is by purchasing conservation lands especially those around springs, rivers, lakes, wetlands and estuaries. These lands serve as a natural buffer that filters out pollution from runoff before it reaches the nearest body of water or before soaking into the ground recharging our aquifers. The District also buys lands to preserve and restore native Florida ecosystems that provide water resources benefits and water storage during hurricanes and other major storm events. The District’s acquisition program has primarily been funded through state programs such as Save Our Rivers, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever.
Q: How much land does the District own?
A: The District and its partners have acquired more than 452,000 acres of conservation land to protect the 16-county region’s water resources. More than 344,000 acres are open to the public for a variety of recreational activities. The remaining land is in private ownership but is protected through conservation easements. There are more than 50 District properties open to the public. There is at least one property located in 14 of the District’s 16 counties. Many of these lands are maintained directly by the District and offer a more natural experience, while some of these properties are managed as city, county or state parks and offer a broader range of amenities.
Q: What happens on District lands?
A: Each year, millions of people visit District lands for active and passive recreation. Some of the recreational activities available include hiking, bicycling, hunting, horseback riding, fishing, paddling, camping, picnicking and nature study. All of the lands are accessible by foot. Some require a reservation to access additional amenities by car, including campsites and facilities accessible to the disabled. Free reservations are available on the District’s website at WaterMatters.org/Recreation.
Q: How does the District manage lands?
A: The District manages its conservation lands to maintain and protect vital water functions and natural systems, which include Florida’s unique plant and wildlife communities. Two primary management tools include mimicking the natural fire cycle, known as a prescribed burn, that historically shaped Florida’s landscape and restoring areas that have been altered by previous activities such as ditching used to drain wetlands. In addition, the District will mechanically mow vegetation, and seed and plant native vegetation. These management techniques help to maintain healthy and abundant populations of game species, such as deer and turkey, and are important for Florida’s threatened and endangered species.
Q: Where can I get more information on visiting District lands?
A: You can visit the District’s website to find a list of District conservation lands and the associated recreational opportunities. You can also order a free Recreation Guide, a 152-page guide that features more than 50 properties owned by the District and includes detailed descriptions and a map for each property. The guides are free to all residents living in the District’s 16-county area. To order a free Recreation Guide or to find out more about District lands and visit WaterMatters.org/Recreation.
Ellen Morgan Morrison, J.D.
Operations and Land Management Assistant Bureau Chief
Southwest Florida Water Management District