Jeremy Efroymson began annual trips to Pinellas County beaches from his home in Indiana as a child. Over the decades, he watched how development gobbled up more greenspace with each return visit.
When he heard earlier this year about residents’ efforts to buy 14 acres of woods on West Klosterman Road for preservation, he said he wanted to do something that would motivate the local community to act.
The WK Preservation Group nonprofit announced this week that the Indiana-based Efroymson Family Fund has pledged $250,000 towards the $3 million needed to buy the 14 acres from Pinellas County Schools. The gift is a closing grant, meaning it would kick in if the nonprofit raises the first $2.75 million.
“This leaves it up to the community to raise the money knowing the last $250,000 is going to come from us,” Efroymson, vice president of the Family Fund, said on Tuesday. “I think it’s a way to get the local community to give to this cause knowing this project is interesting enough that somebody from outside the community is interested in helping out in a significant way.”
Last month, the WK Preservation Group entered into a purchase agreement with Pinellas County Schools to buy the property for $3 million by July 1, 2022. The school district bought the land in 1990 for $651,500, but determined in recent years it would not be needed for school facilities. It put the 14 acres up for sale in January 2020 and received offers from housing developers as high as $3.3 million.
A group of residents and neighbors organized in early 2020 to help save the land. After WK Preservation president Tex Carter met with school officials in March 2020, associate superintendent Clint Herbic agreed to sit on the developers’ offers to give the group time.
Herbic said at the time “we’re not going to drag this out forever.” But earlier this year, Carter asked the school district for more time to raise the funds as the nonprofit’s efforts ramped up following the coronavirus pandemic.
The purchase agreement reached June 8 is the first time the school district has given the nonprofit a firm deadline.
The group’s goal is to combine the land with the adjacent Mariner’s Point Management Area, 76 acres of non-public access land Pinellas County has conserved for three decades. Pinellas County officials have agreed to assume ownership of the 14 acres if the nonprofit is successful in its purchase.
The nonprofit began working this year with Pinellas Community Foundation, a public charity that is acting as a repository for donations. Before the Efroymson Family Fund’s $250,000 closing grant, the all-volunteer effort raised about $99,000, with $15,000 going to closing costs, legal fees and operations.
The donations include a $2,500 grant from Clearwater Audubon Society and a $10,000 anonymous closing grant.
“The idea is that we’re raising money to buy this piece of property, but the money we raise is going to go back into education and going back into the School Board so it’s a win-win for the community,” Carter said.
The Pinellas Community Foundation also assisted a group of residents who last year began trying to purchase 44-acres of woods on Keene Road formerly owned by the late philanthropist Gladys Douglas. The partnership helped raise $4.5 million in private donations towards the city of Dunedin’s $10 million purchase of the land in May.
“People really came together to make sure that happened,” Pinellas Community Foundation CEO Duggan Cooley said of the Gladys Douglas land effort. “I think it says something about the public’s willingness to get involved in environmental preservation activities.”
Cooley said the group will continue reaching out to the foundation’s network of philanthropists for the West Klosterman effort. The strategy will include bringing potential donors out to the 14 acres to see it for themselves.
The acreage represents some of the last 1 percent of original scrub left in Pinellas, “an imperiled ecoregion of global importance,” ecologist Donald Richardson wrote in a field survey prepared for the nonprofit.
The Efroymson Family Fund has given extensively to various environmental causes, but the West Klosterman gift is the first donation it has made in Florida, according to Jeremy Efroymson.
“I think it says something that it caught the attention of somebody who currently resides out of the area and was willing to put together a $250,000 closing gift,” Cooley said. “It really in a significant way challenges the community to raise the remainder of the money.”