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Cypress Lake tops list for conservation

The sand hills, hammocks and cypress marshes surrounding Cypress Lake are littered with furniture, car seats and steel-belted radials.

But in a few years, this 322-acre slice of classic Florida, home to many native plants and animals, may have a canoe launch, boat ramp, and hiking and horse trails.

County commissioners on Tuesday gave the Cypress Lake property, northeast of State Road 50 in Ridge Manor West, top ranking among Hernando County's six most sensitive pieces of land. The list was based on recommendations made by the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee.

Other properties on the list for preservation are:

The Nature Conservancy addition: About 149 acres of mixed hardwood hammock near the historical boundary of the Annuttaligia Hammock, much of which was lost to lime rock mining, agriculture and other development.

The property, valued at $355,067, is just north of the Janet Butterfield Brooks Reserve, south of Florida Mining and Materials and west of Florida Rock Industries.

Bayport: More than 400 acres encompassing marshes, historical settlements, shipwrecks and burial grounds. The old town of Bayport was Hernando's first county seat. During the Civil War, Union troops battled Confederates attempting to export salt and cotton.

County Road 550 bisects the property on the approach to Bayport's park. The property is worth an estimated $400,000. It is home to ospreys and bald eagles, with occasional visits from manatees.

Aripeka Coastal Greenway: Armadillos, otters and hispid cotton rats can be found on more than 1,500 acres along the Gulf of Mexico, skirting the Hernando-Pasco county line. The property has been valued at about $2.28-million. Artist Jim Rosenquist has offered to donate 14 acres of land in the area, records say.

The Hernasco Corporation parcel: North of Hernando Beach, south of Jenkins Creek, this 597-acre tract in the Weeki Wachee Swamp has hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands and salt marsh flats. Sand hill terrain in certain areas make prime sites for gopher tortoises. Mink, deer skunk and black bears have been sighted in the area. Also, there have been unconfirmed sightings of a Florida panther on the property. It has been valued at $23,880.

Rancho del Ciervo Estates: About 725 acres, most of which are wetlands containing lime rock reserves. Nestled along Shoal Line Boulevard between Hernando Beach and Hernando Beach South. Appraised at $323,388.

Commissioners ranked the Ridge Manor property highest because, of the six recommended by the sensitive lands committee, it seemed most likely to be developed in the near future.

Commissioner John Richardson owns a 5.5-acre tract that had been sought by the Gulf Coast Conservancy group for the Aripeka Coastal Greenway. He did not want to sell, but could have received money if his land was acquired through condemnation.

He abstained from voting on the matter, citing a conflict of interest.

Previously, the Cypress Lake area had been approved for development as a recreational vehicle resort. The permit lapsed after the owner decided not to build because of a weak economy and lack of water and sewer services to the area.

However, the economy is strengthening, and the arrival of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center brought a wastewater treatment plant to nearby Kettering Road.

Buddy Selph, a real estate broker with Tommie Dawson Realty, represented property owner Robert Alexis of Lockport, N.Y., at the commission meeting.

Selph pitched Cypress Lake's mix of sand hills, scrubs, swamp and lakes, and its proximity to the Withlacoochee River. The central lake is ringed by cypress trees. Farther out are myrtle oaks, sand holly, rosemary and resurrection ferns.

"It's very unusual to find this much on one piece of land," Selph said. "And this is the kind of property that really is under threat of development."

Kathy Liles, the county's environmental planner, reported that the property once had been rented to all-terrain vehicle drivers. Recovery from damage caused by those vehicles could take two years, she said.

The land, worth about $726,000, could be bought once the county finds a way to pay for it. Hernando now has $1.2-million to spend on such projects, but Planning Director Larry Jennings and Liles said they would seek matching funds and other financing alternatives. The county could invest in several of the projects, buying land as money becomes available, they said.

Other land preservation programs are active in Hernando County, including those run by the state forestry division and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Cypress Lakes would help form a wilderness corridor between the PK Ranch north of State Road 50 and the Withlacoochee State Forest to the east.

Land for conservation

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday ranked six proposed acquisitions that had been recommended by the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee. The county Planning Department next will explore how soon the property can be acquired, at what cost, and how the county would pay for it. The purpose of the purchase would be to preserve native plant and animal life, but the properties also would be accessible to the public.

1. Cypress Lake

2. The Nature Conservancy addition

3. Bayport

4. Aripeka Coastal Greenway

5. Hernasco Corporation parcel

6. Rancho del Ciervo Estates