, a nearly 13,000-acre parcel of undeveloped land in northeast Hillsborough County
, has been used for little more than cattle grazing for the better part of a century.
It soon will be under the protective umbrella of the county's land preservation agency, the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program (ELAPP
). The county commission voted 6-1 in January to transfer ownership of Cone Ranch to ELAPP from the water department.
A proposal to sell the land to private investors with assurances that it would not be developed was opposed by environmental groups and was rejected late last year. Instead, the water department will receive $12 million, approximately what it paid for the land in 1991, and the land will be added to the approximately 48,000 acres already administered by ELAPP.
No plan has been formulated for how the land will be used by the public, although the county parks, recreation and conservation department generally designates ELAPP land for hiking and outdoor activities.It could be years before that happens at Cone Ranch.
"In the near future, Cone Ranch will not be open to the public," says Mark Thornton, Hillsborough County's director of parks, recreation and conservation. "At least probably the first year, maybe the second year, maybe the third year. When we will get it open as a typical ELAPP site, we really don't know."
Thornton hopes eventually to add six new employees in the environmental and land preservation profession to the 22 already employed by ELAPP. The county budget won't support that kind of workforce increase at the moment, Thornton says.
Writer: Carter Gaddis
Source: Mark Thornton, Hillsborough County