by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- A project aimed at restoring endangered scrub habitat at the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve will move forward following the completion of a new trail on the southernmost part of the preserve.
City leaders recently gave initial approval to an amendment to the land development code that allows removal of trees, except historic trees, on state-owned lands to allow the scrub habitat restoration project as part of the state-approved land management and habitat restoration in the 2,477-acre preserve.
During recent discussions on the amendment, Donna Steinebach, assistant to the city manager, revealed the relocation of an interior trail further south of the preserve was completed and the new trail is open to the public.
"We have heard nothing but positive feedback regarding that new trail," Ms. Steinebach said. "So with that new trail open, the county is looking to proceed (with scrub habitat restoration)."
Mayor Allen Green suggested the trail relocation at a stakeholder meeting in October as an attempt to reach compromise with county and state leaders, who believe scrub needs to be restored due to its status as an endangered habitat, and trail users, who feared the project would come at the expense of recreational uses. The preserve's trails are heavily utilized for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
The new trail, Ms. Steinebach said, is primarily oriented toward mountain bikers and includes enhanced topography over the interior trail it's replacing, known as the 7/10 Trail, which will be lost when roller-chopping begins on a 170-acre tract off Martins Dairy Road.
Before the roller-chopping moves forward, the city's contracted forester will meet with county staff to state the boundaries of the buffer areas, where no trees will be removed. Ms. Steinebach said those buffers are along Spruce Creek and existing trails on the preserve.
Plans to restore scrub habitat at Spruce Creek Preserve have been in the works since 1994, when the first local management plan for the project was developed. Last year, county and state leaders "conditionally approved" a land management plan calling for scrub habitat restoration.
Volusia County leaders proceeded with roller chopping of an 84-acre tract of the preserve in July, a move that drew strong opposition from trail users and Port Orange officials. In response, the Volusia County Council paused scrub restoration efforts until a compromise could be reached.
Mayor Green said the stakeholders in the restoration project came a long way from where they were in the summer.
"We came so far from the house of no," the mayor said. "If you think five years out, when (the habitat) starts re-growing and doing what it needs to do, it's going to work out fine."
In other business, council members directed City Manager Ken Parker to put a project out to bid aimed at renovating the skate park at City Center.
The project involves the development of a new "pool" feature and repairs to existing cracked concrete aimed at modernizing the design of the park. The city has budgeted $130,000 for the skate park improvements, according to city staff.
One citizen, Newton White, expressed a concern the improvements would conflict with the nearby Port Orange YMCA's plans to expand and renovate their facility, including the possible addition of a second swimming pool.
"The location of the skate park would kind of seem real close so it prevents some kind of expansion at the (YMCA)." Mr. White said. The skate park sits behind the YMCA and is next door to the Port Orange Gymnasium.
Mayor Green and City Manager Parker said there is no conflict, clarifying the YMCA's planned expansion is out towards the frontage on City Center Circle.
"We have enough room to make it work," Mayor Green said.