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A committee is finalizing recommendations for the USF forest preserve and golf course

A sandy path lined with saw palmetto plants drooping trees.
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF Public Media
Committee members considered recommending low-level development of the forest preserve, such as an observation center and boardwalks.

Committee members considered recommending low-level development of the forest preserve, such as an observation center and boardwalks.

The conversation about possible development on the University of South Florida Forest preserve and golf course continued on Thursday as a committee met to discuss recommendations for the future of the area.

Members of the USF Forest Preserve Advisory Committee considered recommending low-level development of the forest preserve, such as an observation center and boardwalks.

Committee members also talked about development of the golf course, as long as it doesn't impact the preserve.

"Because of its proximity being immediately adjacent to the forest preserve that any sort of intensive development that might occur there is going to impact potentially water quality and species distributions within the forest preserve," said committee member Jeannie Mounger, who holds a doctorate in ecology and evolution from USF and helped organize a campaign to preserve the land.

The advisory committee was developed in response to an outcry from members of the university and the public after USF officials asked for proposals to develop the land in April.

The area, which is located just north of the main campus off Fletcher Avenue, had been used as a natural classroom to many in the Department of Integrative Biology.

The university received eight proposals to develop the land, including one that featured designs for a 30,000 seat-football stadium.

But an ecological assessment completed in October found that much of the land was not suitable for development.

Mounger prefers a conservation easement that would prevent development on the entire forest preserve.

The committee is also considering adding recommendations for two other USF properties: the Botanical Gardens and nearby GeoPark.

Members could suggest placing the properties under the management of the College of Arts and Sciences and hiring a full-time facilities manager to oversee them.

"With each of those facilities it has long been an issue that they haven't received any funding and attention that they really require,” said Mounger. “Being able to have a facilities manager who can oversee land management would solve many problems that we've had for a long time."

She said those problems include invasive species management and the need to conduct prescribed burns.

But the committee has to decide if providing guidance on areas of campus outside the Fletcher area falls outside its purview. They may make more specific recommendations on the forest preserve and golf course — and loose recommendations for the GeoPark and Botanical Gardens.

“I understand this idea that we may sort of be creeping outside of our recommendation or charge but I like that as a recommendation because it’s something that we've fought for for so long."

The committee expects to provide recommendations to Interim USF president Rhea Law by the end of the month.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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