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Calusa Land Trust, GPICA assist in land buy

July 24, 2019
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

On July 8, Lee County completed the acquisition of 92 acres on Pine Island to add to the Conservation 20/20 Buttonwood Preserve. This acquisition increases the size of Buttonwood Preserve to nearly 360 acres. The acquisition cost was $1.17 million.

The preserve is located in St. James City on both sides of Pine Island Road, along the shoreline of Pine Island Creek, and directly across from the state-owned Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank Preserve.

The Calusa Land Trust and Nature Preserve and the Greater Pine Island Civic Association provided donations of $5,000 and $250, respectively, to support the acquisition.

The county has plans to use 15 acres of the Buttonwood Preserve as a storm debris site but the GPICA board opposes using 20/20 land for this purpose.

Scott Wilkerson, president of the GPICA, addressed the Lee County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday.

"I want to thank you again for voting Tuesday to acquire the parcel in St. James City for 20/20 Conservation," Wilkinson said. "We remain skeptical that using or selling 15 acres of this parcel for a storm debris site is an appropriate use of 20/20 lands. We at the GPICA are opposed to it."

Buttonwood Preserve contains important wetland communities such as mangroves and salt marshes. Mangroves serve as a nursery for juvenile fish, a primary food source for many wildlife and bird species. Mangroves also work to filter water by removing any pollutants and excess nutrients.

The land, mostly uplands, is located west of Stringfellow Road and north of Maria Drive, about one mile south of Pine Island Center. This site is just east of the Pine Island Commercial Marina in St. James City and contains a rare fresh water marsh, mangrove forest, salt flats and oak hammock fringe. It features beautiful pawpaw, an endangered plant species. Beautiful pawpaw is a low flowering shrub, unique to only three counties in Florida: Charlotte, Lee and Orange.

There is no public access currently available at this preserve. Nearby Conservation 20/20 preserves with public access include Pine Island Flatwoods Preserve and Galt Preserve.

"We recognize that Pine Island needs a storm debris site, but we hope the county will find another option," Wilkinson said. "Hopefully, as well as preservation, it will provide public opportunities for hiking and other low impact activities. We look forward to following through on our commitment to donate to the cost of acquiring this property."

Conservation 20/20, which has preserved about 29,700 acres since its inception, is Lee County's environmental acquisition and management program. Conservation lands help the county protect drinking water, enhance water quality, provide nature-based recreational opportunities, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitat.

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