Wellington wins: Environmental preserve named winner of Great Places in Florida People’s Choice Award

Your votes paid off.

Wellington announced this week that it won the 10th annual Great Places in Florida People’s Choice Award from the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, for the Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Habitat.

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This year’s theme was “Great Resilient Places,” honoring locations with planning elements that highlighted environmental resiliency. Wellington’s 400-acre stormwater treatment and wildlife area includes educational markers along its trails, which are designed to accommodate bicyclists, walkers and equestrians.

“This recognition reaffirms our commitment to preserving the natural beauty of our region while providing valuable recreational spaces for our residents,” Village Manager Jim Barnes said. “We are excited to announce that great things are on the horizon for the Wellington Environmental Preserve as we begin the process of incorporating the Moncada parcel.”

The two other finalists for the award were The Bay in Sarasota, and downtown St. Augustine.

“As Florida continues to grow at a rapid pace, we need more communities like the village of Wellington to think ahead and be innovative when protecting one of our state’s greatest assets, The Everglades, while providing a space of health and recreation for its residents,” said Whit Blanton, APA Florida president. “Named after the staunch Everglades defender, it is fitting that such a remarkable place earned this award.”

The Wellington Environmental Preserve, also known as Section 24, sits on Wellington’s western edge. For years the preserve at 3491 Flying Cow Ranch Road was 365 acres — until November 2021, when Wellington bought an additional adjoining 45-acre site, known as the Moncada property, to bring the preserve to an even 400 acres.

Crews in June began working to clear the 45-acre addition of invasive and exotic species. The property for decades has been overgrown since its past life as agricultural land, Wellington staff said. In that time, it was overrun with dense invasive plants, including Brazilian pepper.

With the property cleared, work can begin to incorporate it into the rest of the preserve with trails and markers, Wellington staff has said.

Wellington received several grants to help pay for the incorporation of the Moncada property, including:

  • About $3.4 million of the $4.5 million price of the land, or about 75% of the cost, was covered by a grant through the Florida Communities Trust Grant Program.
  • A $1.7 million grant from the Resilient Florida Grant Program, through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will help pay for construction at the site. Wellington has to match that grant with another $1.7 million.
  • A recently announced $747,500 grant that is part of the 2023 U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program.
  • Another $400,000 through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Recreational Trails Program will help build trails, shade structures, and directional and interpretive trail signs in line with what exists in the rest of the preserve. Wellington has to match this grant with $275,000.

Once completed, the goal is for the 45 acres to blend seamlessly into the rest of the environmental preserve, Village Engineer Jonathan Reinsvold told me in February.

The project will continue into at least 2026, Wellington staff said.


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