Osceola County residents will soon have a new recreational space for residents along Kings Highway after commissioners agreed to purchase nearly 175 acres of land once zoned for housing developments.
The $4.3 million purchase recently approved will allow for plans to create a passive park with open spaces, bike paths and hiking trails. The funds will come from park impact fees.
The property, which is expected to exchange hands by summer’s end, is adjacent to Brownie Wise Park at Tupperware Island and runs east from Aultman Road to Kings Highway.
Despite its proximity to Brownie Wise Park, the new park will have its own name, which will be selected at a later date, according to District 4 County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb.
“One of our goals is to make sure pedestrian and bike paths have connection and have meanings,” she said, describing herself as a casual cyclist.
In addition to pathways for walking and biking, Grieb expects to include a community center for residents to gather.
This purchase is part of the county’s parks master plan which identifies and prioritizes areas the county can purchase for potential parks and community centers. “This one, timing-wise, worked out well,” Grieb said, adding while this area “wasn’t one of the prioritized areas, the family said they were looking to sell.”
The county purchased the space from Friar’s Cove and Green Island Ranch, who agreed to a month-to-month lease with the county to continue allowing their cattle to graze in the pasture until development of the park begins.
The lease is $100 a month and provides for a 60-day notice to vacate.
The purchase also increases the county’s conservation efforts as the pasture stores water before it enters Lake Tohopekaliga, which in addition to Shingle Creek, is considered part of the headwaters to the Everglades.
Without heavy development, the park will also remain home to indigenous species such as bald eagles, ospreys, snail kites, sandhill cranes, egrets and others, allowing for bird watchers and wildlife photographers.
“This is a legacy acquisition that is win for surrounding communities, for our county, for our lakes and for the overall environment,” Grieb said. “Conservation efforts often happen one piece at a time over a number of years and this purchase fits that pattern.”
Joy Simpson, co-founder of the Kings Highway Community Coalition, called the purchase a way to maintain the county’s history, particularly in the area known for farms, homesteads and approximately 700 households.
“It’s always been very, very rural,” Simpson said. “While we understand there is going to be growth, we want the growth to be mindful of traditional Florida.”
Seeking a space that is “quiet and contemplative” where visitors can view the local bald eagle’s nest or resident caracara is what Simpson envisions.
“It’s an opportunity to learn more about wildlife that may not be possible to observe endangered species in ways one can’t always in other areas of Florida,” she said. “It’s a great gift to the community.”
Simpson doesn’t want to see the park become a high traffic destination with ballfields and is encouraged to hear the county’s plan is similar to the ways local residents want to see the area developed.
Grieb expects to work with the coalition as well as the public to determine a vision for the space in the coming years, once the county has the funds to develop the park.
“I’m proud of the properties the county has acquired and the vision we have ensuring that our residents have the resources to preserve an outstanding quality of life – both now and in the future,” Grieb said. “I’m looking forward to the community’s involvement and input as we plan for the best uses for this property.”
While the coalition hasn’t yet discussed design plans they’d like to see at the new park, Simpson is “pleased and thankful” the residents will be part of the conversation.
“It’ll be something a citizen [who lives along King’s Highway] can go to and say ‘this is mine,’” Grieb said. “They’re happy it won’t become concrete.”