Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

October 2012 Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Pres.

No doubt you all saw Dinah Pulver’s articles in the News- Journal detailing the brouhaha at the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. Just in case you didn’t, let me recap the issue.

Land acquisition for the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve was begun in 1982. The Nature Conservancy, The Trust For Public Land, Audubon of Florida and the St Johns River Water Management District were all instrumental in the efforts to piece together what is now a roughly 2,400 acre natural area that stretches from west of I-95 to the Halifax River, south of Rose Bay. The land is state owned for the most part but is managed by Volusia County. Martins Dairy Road pulls north off Turnbull Bay Road just east of Pioneer Trail. It dead ends in the parking lot for a portion of the Preserve that’s become very popular with mountain bikers and those riding horses on the property.

In 1991 Archbold Biological Station sent a team to Volusia County to survey our Florida Scrub Jay population. The area where the mountain bikers ride was identified as prime Scrub Jay habitat that had been allowed to degrade, primarily because of fire suppression. The Acquisition and Restoration Council, a group within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has been urging the County to restore the scrub habitat since 2005, through a combined technique of “roller chopping” and controlled burning. The County posted notices on the property and began by roller chopping a small section. It was at this point that all hell broke loose and the mountain bike folks went to the County Council to complain that the plan would ruin what they thought was one of the best mountain bike trails in the state.

The County Council felt that they were already committed to a policy of scrub habitat restoration and there was little they could do. So the mountain bikers went before the City Council of Port Orange to raise the issue since that part of the Preserve lies within the city limits. All this was taking place during the election season. So all of the politicians were anxious to show that they were responding to their constituents. It should also be pointed out that the original restoration plan was perhaps a bit too aggressive in its scope since it calls for mowing down some beautiful trees and wiping out a canopied pathway popular with anyone using the property. In July, I walked the property for the first time in years. I could see right away that a compromise was easily available. By leaving the canopy shaded trails, a buffer could be created that allowed restoration of the true scrub habitat. This would leave untouched, the trails that were so valued by all of the users of the property.

Chapter President, Paula Wehr, and I attended a special meeting at the County Council to deal with the issue. The County staff had already come to the same conclusion we had and proposed it in their initial statement at the opening of the meeting. In the fractious political times in which we live, a compromise apparently wasn’t what the other side on this issue wanted. They don’t want any change at all on the property. All three Audubon chapters here in Volusia County have joined with Clay Henderson, former County Council member and state representative, in asking DEP and the County to move ahead with the compromise restoration plan. A delegation from Port Orange met with DEP officials in Tallahassee on August 29th. From that meeting came a decision to have a facilitated conference to determine a course of action that addresses the concerns of all stake holders. The date for that meeting has not yet been set.

David Hartgrove