by Jeremy Morrrison
Escambia County officials decided to purchase a piece of real estate this month that could play a key role in the restoration of Carpenter’s Creek, as well as provide a public recreation area on property that Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers describes as “staggering in its beauty.”
“It needs to be preserved, it needs to be saved,” Myers told county commissioners March 16, “and it is really and truly the key to restoring Carpenter’s Creek all the way down to the bayou.”
The parcel of land that commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to purchase has been identified as one of the headwaters, or sources, to Carpenter’s Creek, which has an impaired watershed and is the subject of numerous restoration projects. The headwaters would be considered vital to restoration of the watershed.
“Quite frankly, if we do not get this eight and a half acres, which is the headwaters, it is going to be almost impossible to restore Carpenter’s Creek, we have to have those headwaters,” Myers lobbied during the commissioners’ meeting.
Commissioner Grover Robinson, who has championed Carpenter’s Creek as a candidate for RESTORE funding, or fine money stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, told his cohorts on the board that the asking price — down to $115,000 — was appropriate, noting that the county would be “getting well in excess of value.”
The parcel of land, located at 715 Olive Rd., is being sold by a family who has owned it for decades. It is undeveloped and contains a large pond. There are plans for amenities, such as a canoe launch.
Myers found the property when she noticed a for-sale sign while driving near an area that had been identified as a potential headwaters site. She contacted Laurie Murphy, of the Emerald Coastkeeper environmental organization, who was involved in a campaign to clean the watershed and raise public awareness about the issue.
“It was like a hidden jewel,” Murphy said. “No one knew it was here, or that the lake was that big, because it was privately owned for decades.”
The property is zoned medium-density residential. It could have potentially been developed into a subdivision, which is what Myers and Murphy began to fear once they realized what they’d found.
“We just knew that we could not let developers get this land and clear cut it,” the city councilwoman explained to the county commissioners. “It has magnificent heritage oaks, and longleaf pines and magnolias and is just absolutely beautiful.”
“The first thing I thought was ‘Oh my God, someone’s going to purchase and develop that eight acres and then we’ll never be able to get this creek healthy,’” Murphy relayed a couple of days after the commissioners had decided to purchase the property.
She could breathe a little easier at that point, because the environmentalist had been so concerned about losing out on the headwaters property that — after being unable to find a legacy donor — she used her own money to make sure the parcel was locked down.
“So, I take my own money and put a contract on it to keep anybody else from buying it,” Murphy said. “I know, crazy right?”
Murphy said she was “terrified” going into the county commissioners’ meeting. But she was resolved to purchase the property herself if need be.
“I would’ve if I’d had to. We needed to safe it,” she said, stressing the importance of the headwaters. “All the work that everybody was doing would have been done in vain.”
The county commissioners apparently came to the same conclusion — a decision Murphy describes as “a huge, progressive move” — recognizing the property’s role in safeguarding watershed restoration projects both past and planned, as well as its potential as a recreational destination north of Interstate-10.
“In a lot of ways this completes a lot of the goals that we are trying to achieve,” Robinson said. “We only have the opportunity now, I think we ought to go ahead and do this.”
To learn more about Carpenter Creek restoration efforts, click here.
To learn more about Escambia County’s RESTORE-related restoration efforts for the Carpenter’s Creek/Bayou Texar watershed, click here.