Community partners, donors come through to preserve prized 44-acre property

Persistence paid off for the partners involved in efforts to preserve the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property. They have raised enough money to buy the 44-acre site at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Keene Road.

DUNEDIN — Persistence paid off for the partners involved in efforts to preserve the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property. They have raised enough money to buy the 44-acre site at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Keene Road.

City officials and other partners said during a live video announcement Feb. 1 that in the past few days enough donations have come in to meet the $10 million needed to acquire the property by the deadline of Jan. 31 given to them by the estate.

As of late last week, the partners were $275,000 short of the goal and on Jan. 29 they encouraged people to donate through a video announcement on the city of Dunedin's website.

Pinellas Community Foundation Executive Director Duggan Cooley on Feb. 1 thanked the hundreds of donors throughout the community who have made it possible.

"The work doesn't end today. The work continues, and if anyone would like to continue to support the project, additional dollars raised will go toward the development and maintenance and the facility," Cooley said.

"So there is still more work to do, and you will hear about that in the coming weeks. Fundraising is not over. But now is a day to celebrate. We have met the $10 million goal," he said.

City Manager Jennifer Bramley said the future is bright for the property, and officials now have the responsibility to build a five-year plan for improvements on the property that involves passive recreation.

She and County Administrator Barry Burton will be meeting with the attorneys for the estate of Gladys Douglas on Feb. 4 and offer their proposed agreement for purchase of the property.

"So we won't hear back immediately. Everybody be patient. We will update you on our Facebook page and keep you up to day date as much as we can," Bramley said.

County Commission Chairman Dave Eggers said Jan. 29 said there are many demands on land in Pinellas County for affordable housing and industrial uses as well as environmental land.

"So we do everything we can to balance all of those needs. This project was one of the most important ones the county saw and got their arms around it," said Eggers.

Among the partners Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski complimented was the Sierra Club, which she said has been involved in many Dunedin projects the past five years.

"This has been the biggest thing they have stepped forward to assist with in many different ways, whether it will be fundraising or just getting the word out or bringing all the partners together," she said.

Others receiving accolades was Nichole Mattheus, who spearheaded the Save the Gladys Douglas Preserve effort through a Facebook page she launched in August.

At an event Jan. 27 at the Woodwright Brewing Co. in Dunedin, $25,000 was raised.

The event was sponsored by the Florida Native Plant Society.

In a telephone conversation, Mattheus touted support for the property acquisition.

"That is one of things that stuck home for me, that this is really important for the community — the fact that we were able to raise that much money so quickly it means that this is really important to actually have preserves like the Douglas-Hackworth preserve and actually have places to go and connect to nature," she said.

Rebecca Wellborn, spokeswoman for the local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, is also pleased with the funds raised at the Jan. 27 event

"Our goal was to raise $15,000 then match it with $5,000 from the chapter, but we easily surpassed that," she said.

Among those involved were Blue-Green Connections, Suncoast Sierra Club, Mattheus, the Pinellas Community Foundation, Dunedin Boat Club and the Dunedin International Film Festival. Bujalski, Eggers and others spoke at that event.

"We sold out and the enthusiastic, socially distanced crowd stuck with us through a brief shower until the end," Wellborn said.

The Douglas-Hackworth property is considered valuable, among other reasons, for its rosemary scrub-type habitat.

"It is a very, very rare type of habitat," Wellborn said.

Officials say combining the 44 acres with the neighboring Jerry Lake will result in about 100 acres of passive recreation

Bujalski noted Jan. 29 that two private donors each gave $2 million, calling such support "incredible."

"I think this is a new formula for land preservation in partnership with the county. I really look forward to that process," Bujalski said. "I think we have set the bar and the example on how to do things together as a community."

Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, stepson of the Gladys Douglas, said Jan. 29 that his family was excited that the community was close to saving the property.

"Of course, Gladys would be looking down in absolute joy for tremendous effort that's been made to realize her last wish," he said.