Dothan took an initial step Tuesday that could result in almost 400 acres of land being converted into a natural preserve.
The Dothan City Commission unanimously voted to donate 51 acres of land to the Forever Wild Trust, a state conservation program created to acquire land and preserve it for nature trails, public parks, wildlife preserves and other natural uses.
The donation of the land – located at the site of the old Beaver Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant off Flowers Chapel Road – is contingent on adjacent landowners being willing to sell property to the trust at fair market value. It is also contingent on the Dothan submission being selected as a Forever Wild land preserve.
The Forever Wild program was created in 1992. Since its inception, more than 220,000 acres have been purchased for the purpose of being preserved. Alabama voters recently voted to extend the program for another 20 years. It is funded by 10 percent of the interest from the Alabama Trust Fund, which is funded by royalties resulting from offshore drilling. The most recent annual allocation was about $15 million.
According to the City, Dothan is willing to donate 51 acres. Two other landowners, Wells Fargo and Wiregrass Investments, are willing to donate a combined 81 acres, for 132 acres of donated land. An additional 255 acres has been identified near the recently decommissioned Beaver Creek plant. If those landowners are willing to sell and the Forever Wild Trust selects the tract, the area could be used for nature trails, bike trails and other natural uses. The city would construct and maintain the trails if the land is selected.
“We think it is a perfect place for something like this,” City Manager Mike West said. “It goes from higher areas down to swamp lands. When you look at the tremendous population density around the area, it can be enjoyed by an awful lot of people and allows part of our city to be preserved.”
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said the program is beneficial for Dothan’s future.
“This will give our grandchildren’s grandchildren something to use,” Schmitz said.
The selection process involves an initial nomination of a tract or tracts of land. Any individual can nominate a tract of land. Forever Wild then looks to determine if the landowner would be a willing seller. The land is categorized and scored. It falls into four major categories: nature preserve, state park addition, wildlife management area and recreation area.
Dothan’s tract would fall into the recreation area category. A board representing all geographical areas and an array of conservation/outdoors interests scores the land. If the land is attractive, the board orders a first appraisal, which is not made known to the landowner. The first appraisal allows a negotiation to begin. If the seller is still willing, a second appraisal is ordered.
Land tracts involving donated portions receive added consideration, according to Jo Lewis, Natural Heritage Section Chief in the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“In this situation, Dothan and some private individuals are willing to donate land as part of the overall project, which is wonderful,” Lewis said.
Not everyone believes the Forever Wild program should be supported. Some groups, including the Alabama Tea Party, say the interest from the Alabama Trust Fund should not have been diverted into the land preserve program, especially during a time of economic uncertainty.
The vote to extend the program passed overwhelmingly in 2012. In Houston County, 64 percent voted in favor of extending Forever Wild while 36 percent voted against extending the program.
West said the city could know if the area has been selected in less than three weeks.
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