This summer the District’s Land Resources Department assembled a group of people, all with a personal or professional interest in the availability of District lands for public use, to hear their input on how the District can maintain the balance between preservation and public access.
The District’s Land Resources Department is tasked with balancing public access, recreation and other land uses with the management of more than 343,000 acres of District-owned land. The stakeholder group included representatives from agencies that partner with the District on land management, other state and environmental agencies, as well as sporting groups, recreational activists and agriculture.
“We invited people we thought would provide us with the most significant feedback,” said Chuck Lane, senior land use specialist. “Our objective was to listen to them, and their feedback was candid, thoughtful and pertinent.”
The meeting began with staff delivering a presentation to establish the expectations for the meeting and to give an overview of the District’s responsibilities as the largest landholder in west-central Florida. Staff emphasized the common misperception that District lands are not available to the public and discussed their efforts in addressing this problem.
Eric Sutton, land resources director, facilitated the discussion and is interested in holding similar meetings in the future.
“The meeting went well and we received great feedback,” said Sutton. “We are planning to continue to engage this group and are evaluating the best way to establish a long-term approach to take full advantage of this feedback.”
Staff plans to meet again in October with those who attended the meeting and may invite others to join as well.
Some of the topics discussed at length include the value in getting children outside more often and the false perception that District lands are “locked up.” The group agreed that the District should continue its efforts to increase public awareness of available recreational opportunities and, as the meeting progressed, became more aware of the importance of capitalizing on existing opportunities. Much of the discussion supported District programs and partnerships already in place, while other comments and ideas may lead to new efforts.
“The day was a success. I think they are all interested in continuing if schedules allow,” said Lane. “The overwhelming sentiment as we ended the meeting was that they were very appreciative that we took the time to listen to their thoughts and ideas.”
For more information about the District’s land resources efforts, please visit the District’s web site at WaterMatters.org/recreation or call 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4452.