Panhandle Greenway Project Gets Major Boost

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A private landowner has promised not to build on 1,574 acres as part of a massive no-development zone in the Florida Panhandle to protect the environment and military weapons testing and training missions.

Businessman, developer and conservationist M.C. Davis said Tuesday that he donated the development easement to jump start the state-federal Northwest Florida Greenway and that he also envisions selling easements on about 30,000 acres to the state.

The donated easement is on mostly forest land east of Freeport and means Davis, who lives in nearby Santa Rosa Beach, cannot sell or develop it. It is worth about $12 million.

The 1,000-square mile greenway, about 10 miles wide and 100 miles long, would extend east from Eglin Air Force Base north of Panama City and then curve south to the Gulf of Mexico. It will enable military aircraft to continue flying over the area unimpeded by development.

Davis' acreage is the first land in Walton County to officially become part of the greenway. It is part of the 53,000-acre Nokuse Plantation, a nature preserve and wildlife corridor that he established several years ago.

The state is negotiating with Davis to use Florida Forever funds to buy 18,000 acres adjacent to the donated property in the spring, said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Linda Long.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District paid Davis $4.5 million in November for 3,160 acres that is being used as nature preserve and recreation area. The state may be interested in an easement on that property, water management district officials said.