TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — It’s 13.5 acres of untouched Florida wilderness that Brad Husserl loves.
“It smells great,” he said Thursday, as he strolled through the scrub pine forest just feet from the coast. “It feels good. It’s definitely relaxing.”
And, he’s not alone. Various species of plant and animal life can be found on the plot of land, which is located on West Klosterman Road on the southern boundary of Tarpon Springs.
“We have about 60 gopher tortoise nests out here, at least,” Husserl said. “So just a couple feet in, we start to see some stuff that once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Husserl, the chairman of the recently-formed WK Preservation Group Inc., is part of an effort to permanently preserve the land, which was bought by Pinellas County Schools in 1990. In Jan. 2020, the school board deemed the land unnecessary to education and decided to release it for sale.
Husserl said developers hoped to buy the land to build condominiums.
So, concerned about losing the pristine forest and gaining the additional traffic a development would create, Husserl and his allies got together with the school board and struck a deal in June 2021.
If the WK Preservation Group can raise $3.2 million before July 1, 2022, they can buy the land and convert it into a nature preserve.
“We need every kind of donation,” said Husserl. “But we do need some big donations.”
So far, just 10% of the $3.2 million has been raised, with the largest portion — $250,000 — coming from a visitor from Indiana who Husserl said was inspired to help. Husserl and others gathered at the property on Thursday to make another pitch to the public for help raising the remaining balance.
“We are getting nervous because time goes fast,” he said. “Time flies, and before we know, it will be six months from now, and we do not know if we’re going to have the funds.”
With the funds, the group plans to complete the purchase of the property, then deed it back to Pinellas County.
"The county will plan on blending this property with the Mariner’s Point Management Area, which is 76 acres of nature preserve that's located on the north side of this property," said Husserl.
The group of concerned citizens are turning to the public for help, hoping to fill the fence along the property with green ribbons, signifying $20 donations. They also point to the problem of how quickly land and green space is drying up in the community.
“The infrastructure here, even in this area of the community, cannot sustain additional traffic, additional housing, and so it’s time to leave this space as green space for our community," said Duggan Cooley, the CEO of the Pinellas Community Foundation.
You can read more about the fundraising effort at this link.