Walton County, FL
After years of negotiations, the Walton County School Board agreed last night to accept the terms of a settlement agreement that will preserve protected land surrounding South Walton High School. The agreement will connect on-campus trails to the Point Washington State Forest, create a 10-acre conservation area, provide a safe path for students to travel to a local convenience store, and offer an area for science and environmental teachers to educate students on conservation and nature. The Walton County Board of County Commissioners voted to accept the terms of the settlement agreement in December.
The settlement agreement was the culmination of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Susan and Bruce Paladini. Earthjustice filed and negotiated a lawsuit agreement with Walton County in 1999 to create natural greenways and trails through the New Town Center lands and to preserve protected wetlands from development. The county then sold a portion of the land to the local school district, which immediately began construction on the property. In December 2002, Earthjustice filed additional litigation against the school district seeking recognition of the requirements of the earlier settlement agreement. In April 2003, Earthjustice also sued the County to enforce preservation of wetlands and construction of greenways and trails on the portion of the property still owned by the County. Yesterday’s unanimous board decision accepting the terms of the agreement is a victory for students, teachers and the community.
“This settlement proves that the county and the school board are committed to preserving these important areas for recreation and education,” said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer. “This will certainly give students and families a chance to enjoy the natural settings of their county.”
Susan Paladini, a caretaker of a local nature preserve, said she already participates in field trips with South Walton High School science and environmental teachers and students and looks forward to expanding the program to their school sites to tailor courses that will focus on preserving conservation areas and trails. “This trail goes right through the middle of the campus,” Paladini said. “We plan to work with the students to develop and maintain this trail, and as years go by the trail will be restored to much of its original beauty. This is a chance for students to come back in five or ten years and really see the work they did in high school develop into a wonderful natural setting.”
The trail and conservation areas included in the settlement agreement also provide students with a safer route to a local convenience store. Rather than travel along a busy highway, the trail will be an on-campus path that will offer a safer passage through a natural setting. The trails will also provide close to five of access and recreation areas for bicyclists and hikers to enjoy a much more contiguous path through state forests and wetlands.