News / Events

'A magical place' - Volusia County developing public plan for Deep Creek land

Dinah Voyles Pulver, ENVIRONMENT WRITER

May 19, 2013

Gnarled cypress roots and towering trees crowd the banks of Deep Creek where it

flows into the St. Johns River south of Osteen. Wild beauty lures passing boaters to

the winding waterway where otters scamper and bald eagles soar.

The hammocks and prairies along the creek were owned by the Miami Corp. for

nearly 100 years, but now belong to the people of Volusia County.

Ownership of the 1,400 acres along the creek was transferred to the county on

March 28 as part of complex and sometimes controversial agreements that mapped

out the future of nearly 90 square miles of land the company owns in southern

Volusia and northern Brevard counties. But it will be awhile before the public gains

access to the lands.

"It's a terrific acquisition for the county and for the public most of all," said Volusia

Councilwoman Pat Northey, who pushed to get the land deeded to the county

throughout a three-year planning process with the company. "It's a magnificent

property that the citizens of Volusia County will treasure forever."

In exchange for gaining the rights to develop up to 23,000 homes and 4 million

square feet of commercial space, the company set aside about 43,000 acres in

conservation, including the 1,400 acres deeded to the county.

The land, beginning just south of Osteen-Maytown Road and ending along the St.

Johns River, will be known as the Deering Preserve, after members of the family that

started the Miami Corp. in 1917 and started buying land locally in the 1920s.

County officials say they hope to have a plan in place to allow members of the public

limited access to the land during organized field trips within a year to 18 months. A

hunting lease the company had in place with a hunt club and the difficulty of gaining

access to the remote wilderness keep it from happening sooner.

"When the public finally has an opportunity to explore the land, they're going to fall in

love," Northey said. "It's a magical place."

Forest floors are lined with green ferns. Wild turkeys call and the eerie cries of

limpkins can be heard among the cypress trees.

"It's Old Florida at its finest," said Northey.

But some may consider parts of old Florida finer than others. When trails open on the

land eventually, hikers will have to step carefully to watch for alligators that live in

the creek and the plethora of water moccasins and pygmy rattlesnakes found in the

swamps and woods.

The hunting lease is in effect until April 30, 2016, but the company has an option to

extend that lease five years, county officials said. The agreement gradually limits the

type of hunting allowed. For example, all dog hunting ended in March.

Until 2016, county staff will be allowed on the property on Wednesdays, the one day

a week when no hunting is allowed, said Randy Sleister, land management supervisor

for the county. The staff will begin planning how to develop public access, Sleister

said.

After 2016, staff and the public will be allowed on Wednesdays during hunting season

and on other days of the week outside hunting season, Sleister said.

Access to the land will be via a dirt road and parking area to be developed across

Osteen — Maytown Road from the point where Pell Road now ends. Northey said the

county hopes to begin developing primitive walking trails over the next year to 18

months.

Northey and Sleister said the county also will begin exploring ways to cross Deep

Creek to access the land on the west side of the creek.

Any construction must be approved and permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of

Engineers and the St. Johns River Water Management District because the land on

the east side of the creek is part of a mitigation bank. The company's permit for the

bank requires only minimal impacts to the land to protect its conservation value.

Eventually, the county plans a kayak launch and possibly primitive camping.

DEEP CREEK TIMELINE

March 2013

Ownership of Deering Preserve transferred to county, dog hunting ends

2013 - 2016

County staff allowed on property on Wednesdays

Summer 2014

Officials hope to begin organized field trips

April 2016

Hunting lease expires, but with option to extend 5 years

 


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