There are many features that make the 5,457-acre St. Marks Preserve a compelling investment; however, the overarching storyline centers around the property’s valuable timber, excellent conservation resources, and a location only 16 miles southeast of Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee. Large tracts are increasingly difficult to find and acquire, particularly those close to a metropolitan area.
Situated along the Jefferson / Leon County line with over 4 miles of paved road frontage on Natural Bridge Road, 4,388 acres of St. Marks Preserve lie in Leon County with the remaining 1,069 acres in Jefferson County. This property has been professionally managed for timberland production for the past 50+ years - approximately 60% is productive.
St. Marks Preserve is also an excellent conservation candidate whose landscape can be characterized as a mosaic of cypress / hardwood ponds and drains interspersed among upland pines that support an abundant and varied wildlife population. The most common species include whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and black bears. Importantly, the property shares an 8+ mile border with the State of Florida and enjoys a prominent location within a bevy of public lands.
To ensure a closing, a significant amount of due diligence has already been performed including a timber cruise, mapping, phase I environmental study, and title work.
A timber cruise of the planted slash pine (9 to 26 years old) was performed in September 2021 by Land & Timber Management out of Tallahassee. Most of the merchantable plantations (1,230 acres) have been thinned in the last three years to a consistent 62 – 65 square feet of basal area per acre and exhibit comparable stand attributes. The diameter distribution of the merchantable planted pine indicates that a majority of the trees will be moving from pulpwood to chip-n-saw product class in the next two to four years given normal growth. There are 178 acres of clearcut uplands. The pre-merchantable resource within St. Marks Preserve consists of two stands planted in 2012 (1,154 acres) and 2013 (667 acres), totaling 1,821 acres.
Approximately 50 wood-using facilities are located within a 100-mile circle of the property with principle mills located in Perry and Hosford, Florida (pulp), Perry and Metcalf, Georgia (chip-n-saw), Thomasville, Georgia (sawtimber), and Havana, Florida (ply logs).
The majority of the tract’s upland areas exhibit typical flatwoods soils including Talquin, Ortega, Chipley and Leon sands. Most are spodic (CRIFF D with an average base site index (SI25) of 68 feet.
Palmetto berry production was only recently begun. This business is variable but it is believed that revenue during a good year could reach $30,000.
St. Marks Preserve offers outstanding potential as a conservation play given its important location between the Aucilla River and St. Marks River, both designated as Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW). The property abuts the State of Florida’s 14,363-acre Upper St. Marks River Corridor property and is strategically located in proximity to over 917,000 acres of public lands, Establishing a green corridor from the headwaters of these rivers to the Gulf of Mexico is a highly sought-after environmental goal which is anticipated to receive even more attention with the signing of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. This 2019 legislation dedicates $300M to protecting wildlife corridors in the state.
The State’s acquisition of conservation and recreation land is managed through the Florida Forever program. In this geographic area, the environmental objectives center on protecting water resources and wildlife / natural community biodiversity. Creating more recreational opportunities through connections with other public lands is also a desirable goal. While there is a process for the State to expand its Florida Forever boundary, St. Marks Preserve “checks all the boxes”. If approved, a possible scenario would be to fold it into the St. Joe Timberlands project, the second highest rated ranking for Climate Change Lands in the entire state. Achieving this project designation would set up the potential for a future fee simple disposition or conservation easement sale to the State. That said, there are other conservation avenues to take outside of the State arena.