Although you can’t tell by looking, nearly 300 acres of wetlands has just been added to J.F. Gregory Park.
The area is located at the very back of the park, behind the Wetlands Center and the forthcoming Conference Center. The current walking system scales the three-and-a-half mile perimeter of the tract, which extends from the Wetlands Center to just before Hwy. 17.
Prior to now, the land belonged to Toombs County land developer Larry Jordan. In a ceremony Monday near the tract, Jordan signed a quit-claim deed to the city and handed it over to Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis.
City Manager Mike Melton said the tract of land lies in a conservation easement and "nothing can ever be done back there."
Jordan purchased the tract eight years ago, aiming to sell off mitigation credits.
Developers purchased credits from Jordan, which allowed them to impede on wetlands in other areas while conserving equal acreage on the site.
"When we bought it, the city wanted the land for the walking path," Jordan said. "The mayor and Mike (Melton) worked out a deal where the city got the money from the sale ($110,000) and put it toward the creation of the walking path. It was also part of the agreement that I would donate the land to the city when either 20 years passed or when I sold all the mitigation credits. The credits have been sold, so today is the day."
Davis said the situation works out for everyone.
"Mr. Jordan wanted to purchase the land and the city wanted to use the land," he said. "Full cycle, it was a win-win-win situation. The whole purpose of the wetlands mitigation program is to enhance and preserve wetlands areas for the people to enjoy and that’s what we’ve done here in a grand way."
"I don’t know of another city that has property like this," Jordan said. "It lets people go out into nature as they embark on the path."
Davis said there is small parcel of land in this 293.7-acre deal that was not mitigated.
"What you see back there now is what it’s going to be – with one exception," Davis said. "There is about a four or five acre island in the center of it. We plan to put another bridge in coming into it from the Hwy. 17 side. On that island, we may build some small cabins where folks can spend the night in."
Much of the donated area is the former site of a pre-Civil War era rice field. At one point in time, Henry Ford had built a dyke where the trail now sits.
He used to grow cabbage there.