Orange spends $2.5M on land

County eyes ex­pan­sion for Mag­no­lia Park by buy­ing ad­ja­cent 20 acres

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Stephen Hu­dak

Orange County may ex­pand Mag­no­lia Park af­ter spend­ing $2.5 mil­lion last month for 20 wooded acres ad­ja­cent to the park on Lake Apopka’s east­ern shore.

But if the newly ac­quired land stays un­touched, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists would con­sider that a win too, said Jim Thomas, founder of the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Friends of Lake Apopka.

“That’s the best we can hope for,” he said.

Orange County park staff no­ticed a small “for sale” sign on the prop­erty last year, alerted park ad­min­is­tra­tors and the county realestate divi­sion struck a deal for the land.

“It would have been turned into houses, no doubt,” Orange County Parks & Re­cre­ation Direc­tor Matt Sued­meyer said of the prop­erty, bor­dered by South Bin­ion and Ocoee-Apopka roads.

De­vel­op­ment pres­sure in north­west Orange has ramped up in re­cent years spurred by the open­ing of new sec­tions of the Wekiva Park­way toll road and Ad­ven­tHealth’s new 120-bed $203 mil­lion hos­pi­tal.

Some of the ac­quired acres back up to Mag­no­lia Park, oth­ers touch Mag­no­lia Es­tates, where homes have been sell­ing in the range of $250,000 to $400,000.

Sued­meyer said the county doesn’t yet have firm plans for the new acreage.

Orange County com­mis­sion­ers agreed with­out com­ment Dec. 3 to pay $2.5 mil­lion for the land.

The pre­vi­ous own­ers, Lo Bros. En­ter­prises, had wanted $4 mil­lion, Orange County pro­cure­ment doc­u­ments show, while a county ap­praisal es­ti­mated the land’s value at $2.9 mil­lion.

The com­pany, headed by Henry P. Lo of Lake Mary, paid $130,000 for the prop­erty about 35 years ago.

Sued­meyer said he en­vi­sions an ex­pan­sion of Mag­no­lia Park be­com­ing an overnight stop for bi­cy­clists on Florida’s Coast-toCoast Trail, a 250-mile paved path across the state from the Gulf of Mex­ico to the At­lantic Ocean.

The 52-acre park in­cludes a camp­ground and hosts sev­eral no­table an­nual events in­clud­ing the Blue­grass and Coun­try Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, usu­ally held in May; the “non-scary” Hal­loween Pump­kin Fest and Hayride, held in Oc­to­ber; and an Af­ter­noon with Santa staged in De­cem­ber when the jolly old soul ar­rives by air­boat.

The park is best known as a base for hik­ers, cy­clists and bird watch­ers seek­ing ad­ven­ture on the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, which fol­lows the lake’s edge.

The park also has hosted Bir­da­palooza, a bird­ing fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing the abun­dance and va­ri­eties of species around the lake and its north shore.

Vis­i­tors should be wary of wildlife, in­clud­ing large alligators which some­times crawl out of the wa­ter to sun them­selves on the lime-rock trail.

Sued­meyer said the county plans to add a spur to its West Orange Trail net­work with some of the new acres likely to be­come a stretch of the pro­posed Lake Apopka Con­nec­tor Trail.

Ac­cord­ing to Orange County’s mas­ter trails plan, the pro­posed 5.4-mile path would con­nect the ex­ist­ing Lake Apopka Loop Trail to the West Orange Trail us­ing a trail head at Clar­cona’s Horse­man Park.

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SENTINEL FILE

Bird-watcher Greg Miller peers at a flock of wa­ter fowl from a pier on Lake Apopka at Mag­no­lia Park.

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/OR­LANDO SENTINEL FILE

Orange County may ex­pand Mag­no­lia Park af­ter spend­ing $2.5 mil­lion on 20 wooded acres ad­ja­cent to the park on Lake Apopka. Some of the land backs up to Mag­no­lia Park, and oth­ers touch Mag­no­lia Es­tates.

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