By ERIC STAATS
Naples Florida had been eyeing the purchase of the Peaceful Horse Ranch in DeSoto County since 2010, when the 4,100-acre tract made the state’s land preservation list.
An abrupt change of heart by the state Department of Environmental Protection, though, has put the ranch at the center of a scramble to preserve it.
“This was never supposed to happen,” said Andrew McElwaine, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which now finds itself in line to take ownership of the property.
Legal Settlement between DEP and Mosaic
It started with a legal settlement between environmental groups and phosphate company Mosaic over mining upstream of sensitive Gulf Coast estuaries.
The 2012 settlement called for Mosaic, which had bought the $14 million ranch, to hand it over to the DEP — at no charge — along with a $2 million endowment to manage it as a state park.
No brainer? No deal.
The DEP turned down the offer, saying state budgets are too tight to afford the costs of turning the ranch into a place worthy of the state park label.
Besides that, the region already is home to nearby Myakka River State Park and an underused park called Paynes Creek Historic State Park, DEP spokesman Pat Gillespie said.
“It’s not that we don’t want the land,” he said. “We just don’t feel it was the right piece of property for us. We didn’t want to put all that (more state park amenities) in place, if we didn’t know it’s going to be helpful for the community.”
About the author:
Eric caught the news bug as a teenager delivering the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star and pinning banner headlines on his bedroom wall.
In 1989, he graduated from Indiana University, where he majored in journalism and history. After a summer stint working for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C., Eric joined the Naples Daily News as a business and real estate reporter. He later covered Naples City Hall and worked as an assistant city editor.
Since 1996, he has written about growth, the environment and the oceans as a senior writer. When he’s not at work, he enjoys walking his dogs and waiting for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series.