Grab your kayak and your paddle, because Winter Park might be purchasing a large chunk of wetland surrounding a local creek.
Winter Park city commissioners will decide whether to purchase 55.6 acres of natural wetland during their Aug. 14 meeting. The purchase would give the city an opportunity to preserve a wetland while giving residents a new natural park space.
The land is made of seven parcels surrounding Howell Creek just north of Howell Branch Road, with 12.2 acres located in Maitland and the rest located within Winter Park city limits.
That mass of wetland currently belongs to two property owners. About 32 acres belong to JBC Land, while the remaining land is owned two-thirds by JBC Land and one-third by resident Jerry Banks.
The opportunity to buy the natural land came as a result of a state grant being put toward the purchase last year. However, city leaders have had this wetland on their wish list for at least 10 years, City Manager Randy Knight said.
“This has been on the city’s legislative agenda for years,” he said. “Years ago, we identified that as a potential park plan for the city. We already own the Public Works Compound up there and the gun range along Howell Creek. Years ago, the commission in a strategic planning session thought this would be a good idea.”
The entire piece of land carries an overall price tag of about $305,000. The state grant would cover about half, while the remaining balance would come from the city’s park acquisition impact fees.
The purchase would give the city a chance to remove invasive species along the creek, allowing the water to flow freely and thus preserving it as a wetland.
“The main purpose for wanting to control it is to be able to control the invasive species of trees and weeds that are out there and take it over from time to time,” Knight said. “It’s important that the creek flows, because that’s how the water flows from the Winter Park chain of lakes through Casselberry and all of Seminole County and ultimately all the way to St. Johns. It’s important to keep it from getting choked out by invasives.”
Acquiring the land also would give residents a place where they can freely kayak without trespassing, Knight said.
Residents would be able to paddle all the way up to Lake Waumpi — a distance of about a mile from Lake Maitland. The new piece of land would be the only natural parkland within city limits other than Mead Botanical Garden, Knight said.
“We have other passive parks along lakes like the Kraft Azalea Garden, but they’re not really maintained in that natural environment, because they’re planted with Azaleas and walking paths,” Knight said. “We think it could be a great amenity providing that opportunity so close to the urban core.”