SARASOTA COUNTY –– With just under a week left, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast met its fundraising goal to bring the Orange Hammock Ranch into public ownership.
The foundation announced in a release on May 26 that it had raised the $1.5 million it was to provide under a deal reached between it, the state and the property owner.
Earlier this year, the Florida Cabinet approved a deal to purchase the 5,777-acre property in North Port. The state agreed to pay $19.5 million toward the $21 million purchase price, with the remaining $1.5 million coming from the foundation.
It had until June 1 to make that a reality.
Acquisition of the site has long been a goal of the foundation, Sarasota County and other entities.
“Saving land as significant as Orange Hammock Ranch is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Foundation President Christine Johnson said in a press release. “This success means protection for our drinking water, habitat for wildlife and public open space for all to explore and enjoy.”
Former Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton had called the property a “keystone piece” in the efforts to preserve property in the region.
That characterization is borne out as the acquisition of the property now creates a 121,000-acre conservation corridor between the Myakka and Peace Rivers and Charlotte Harbor.
A county staff report from 20 years ago indicated that the environmental value of the property lay in “…its habitat and hydrological value, wildlife corridor connection, and floodplain protection.”
Besides its natural state, the property also serves as a source of drinking water for North Port and the acquisition will protect that supply as well.
Formerly known as the McCall Ranch, Orange Hammock became known as the Isles of Athena when the city annexed it in 2000 when it was slated for the development of 15,000 homes. However, those plans fell through and the property remained in its natural state.