BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County is hoping to improve public access, recreational opportunities and community education at Peck Sink Preserve by seeking a state grant through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The County Commission voted last month to ask for the funding, a change in direction from previous commissions that frowned on any public access or development at the site. It is located southwest of Brooksville on Wiscon Road, and features a small body of water that goes directly into the aquifer.
The 112-acre Peck Sink property was acquired in two purchases in 2006 and 2008 with a goal of ground-water protection and the potential for passive recreation, said conservation lands specialist Michael Singer, who will serve as project manager.
The purchase cost $2.3 million, with $1.9 million coming from the county's environmentally sensitive lands fund and the rest from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Approximately 11,000 acres of land around the site drains into the sink. Storm water flowing into the sink in the past has carried with it trash, oil, fertilizer and other pollutants.
Ponds and other structures already filter out large debris, as well as polluting substances and nutrients that cause problems with the underground water supply.
The project to build a new trail and overlook and provide educational signage is estimated to cost $206,200. If the county is awarded the grant through the state's Recreational Trails Program, the state would provide 80 percent of the money, with the remaining $41,240 funded by county park impact fees.
The grant request has the support of the Brooksville City Council, Hernando County Tourism Development and the Hernando County Groundwater Guardians.
Nearly 10 years ago, commissioners balked at a plan to develop recreation at Peck Sink. The county was in the midst of a severe financial downturn and struggling to maintain the parks it had. Commissioners opted to stick with "ultra-passive recreation" on the site, which they defined as being just short of posting "no-trespassing" signs.
Similar geological features as Peck Sink in other places were a tourist draw, Singer said. The land's timber eventually will be harvested to provide revenue. Invasive species are managed on the site with help from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Wildlife is also managed. Bat boxes to encourage roosting bats were recently donated, he said.
The site provides opportunities to teach visitors "about the importance of ground-water protection and about the property,'' Singer said.
The planned fully-accessible, 8-foot-wide and 1,600-foot-long trail and overlook will give a better and safer visitor experience.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he had concerns about security and maintenance.
"It's a great idea but it's going to have to be controlled,'' Dukes said.
The site will be open "on a conditional basis," and "we will see how it goes,'' Singer said.
"I think it looks great,'' said Commissioner John Mitten. He called the plan "precisely the type of use we'd like to have for public lands.''
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