Former Governing Board Member Bill Wilcox, left, and current Chair Ron Oakley visit Telegraph Swamp.
District staff and Governing Board Chair Ron Oakley recently visited Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte and Lee counties to look at how the preserve’s staff balanced land preservation and management issues with public access needs.
The 73,000-acre preserve was purchased by the state of Florida and Lee County in 2006 to protect water resources, natural habitats, and historic and cultural resources. Its diverse makeup includes pine flatwoods, dry prairie ecosystems and cypress swamps, including Telegraph Swamp, which is located in the eastern half of the property. Former District Governing Board Member Bill Wilcox, who serves on the board of Babcock Ranch, Inc., led the tour of the preserve.
“It’s a beautiful property,” said Oakley. “We went to the edge of Telegraph Swamp and saw some old cypress trees with a lot of wildlife at home there.”
The preserve is managed under the auspices of a public-private partnership, which helps sustain the preserve as a working ranch and timbering and ecotourism operation. Revenue from these activities helps maintain and protect the property.
“It’s a unique arrangement,” said Oakley, “and seems to be having some success. They brought more than 20,000 visitors to the property last year, taking them on safari-style tours.”
Oakley said the Babcock Ranch partnership was working well to get people out onto conservation lands and that its management provided some good ideas.
“We really want to get families out to see the District’s lands,” said Oakley. “After all, public lands belong to them. And there’s a bond that grows when a family gets out on the land. Our ‘Get Outside!’ campaign is designed to get families out on District properties too, and it’s doing a great job. Our visit to the preserve showed us how effective a good public/private partnership can be.”
For more information on the preserve, visit myfwc.com/recreation/WMASites_BabcockRanchPreserve_index.htm. For information on Babcock Wilderness Adventures ecotourism at the preserve, visit www.babcockwilderness.com.