Every day on West Klosterman Road, on the suburban border of Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor, cars whiz by 14 acres of ancient Florida.
Behind the chain link fence is some of the last 1 percent of the original scrub left in Pinellas County.
There are state-protected gopher tortoises burrowing in the ground and air plants hanging on tree limbs. Among the sand pine and live oak is a single Florida rosemary shrub, what’s called a keystone species of ancient forests. More than 60 threatened or endangered plant and animal species thrive here.
It’s all part of why ecologist Don Richardson has called this slice of land in unincorporated Pinellas County “an imperiled ecoregion of global importance.”
Developers are waiting to turn the 14 acres into another housing development, like the subdivisions that encircle three sides of it. But a growing group of neighbors and activists have been trying for the past year and a half to save it.
Now the West Klosterman Preservation Group, the nonprofit formed to raise money to try to buy the land, is running out of time.
In June, the owner of the property, Pinellas County Schools, agreed to sit on offers from developers to give the nonprofit until July 1, 2022, to come up with $3 million to buy the land before opening it back to the private market.
With seven months to go, the nonprofit has raised $350,000, about 10 percent of the $3.2 million goal.
“We are getting a little nervous because time is going so quick,” WK Preservation Group chairperson Brad Husserl told media during a news conference at the property on Nov. 18.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we don’t have the funds yet.”
The group’s goal is to combine the land with the 76-acre Mariner’s Point Management Area directly to the north, which is nonpublic 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 is still in discussions about whether the 14 acres, if saved, would be closed conservation land or made available to the public as a park.
West Klosterman Preservation Group has partnered with the Pinellas Community Foundation to act as a repository for the funds. The group has so far secured a $250,000 closing pledge from the Indiana-based Efroymson Family Fund, $7,500 from the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation, $2,500 from the Clearwater Audubon Society and a series of smaller individual donations.
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Community Foundation CEO Duggan Cooley said recent high-profile land issues in Pinellas County could help mobilize residents to save these 14 acres. In May, the city of Dunedin purchased 44 acres of woods formerly owned by philanthropist Gladys Douglas in order to turn it into a park. The $10 million purchase was made possible with $5.5 million of city and county funds and $4.5 million raised in private donations to help save the land from development.
But the Pinellas preservation community received a blow this month when the Tarpon Springs City Commission approved a rezoning and final site plan by a housing developer to build on 74 acres of green space on the Anclote River.
“Our environmental health is so critical to our health as a community, and we need your help to make sure that we save the land that is here, the species that are here,” Cooley said. “We see how quickly land and green space is drying up in the community.”