As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Jim McCarthy is President of the North Florida Land Trust, a not for profit, 501c3 that is committed to protecting the natural resources, historic places and working lands (farms and ranches) of North Florida. He lives in Nocatee with his wife, Liz.
Q: When was the North Florida Land Trust founded?
A: In 1999. This is our 20th year, and we’re planning to hold a celebration Feb. 19 at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. I joined in 2014.
Q: What is your background, what did you do before that?
A: It’s varied. I worked for the federal government for five and a half years and then lobbied for 17 years, mostly in Washington, D.C. I came to Jacksonville as a lobbyist and I fell in love with Jacksonville. I had left Washington in snow-changing-to-sleet weather that would be changing to freezing and arrived in Jacksonville, where after my meeting I saw a sign that said it was 11 o’clock and 81 degrees. I said, “Why am I going back?” That was Oct. 23, 1984.
Q: Who did you lobby for?
A: The American Gas Association, which represented gas utilities throughout the country.
Q: What did you do next?
A: I started the Associated Builders and Contractors organization. So it was way different from what I am doing now. Then I left to work for the Haskell Company, selling finance design-build services for educational facilities. After that I consulted, doing public relations marketing.
Q: What does the Florida Land Trust do?
A: We acquire property for conservation purposes, either through easements or purchasing. We take donations of land and easements as well. There are huge tax breaks for donating easements to us.
Q: How much land does the North Florida Land Trust own?
Just shy of 20,000 acres, of which 18,000 has come in the last five years. We’ve got a good team.
Q: Where is your headquarters?
A: Downtown in LaVilla, in the old Brewster Hospital building, which was the first hospital for African Americans, built in 1885. We put half a million in restoration.
Q: Where are your acres?
A: They range from Nassau County south to Putnam County and west to Columbia County, north of Lake City. In Ponte Vedra Beach, we own everything from Mickler’s Landing north to Sawgrass Country Club between Ponte Vedra Boulevard and A1A. All that marsh land. We are the folks who buy swampland in Florida. The beginning of Guana River flows through those marshes. It serves a valuable purpose: cleans water, prevents flooding and provides recreational activities, such as kayaking and paddle boarding.
Q: Does the land trust have a lot of volunteers?
A: Last year we had 358 volunteers, although we are not really volunteer driven because we are in the real estate business. Some people buy land to build on. We buy it to conserve it and preserve it for future generations.
Q: Where does the money come from?
A: Largely private donations, but it depends on the project. We look for sources of funding for all of our projects. If it’s in one of the Florida Forever areas, we’ll use state money. A good example of that is the acquisition of Fish Island in St. Augustine, just south of the 312 Bridge. We turned it over to the state and the city of St. Augustine is going to manage it as a public park.
Q: Is it a challenge to find funding?
A: It’s really the secret sauce—where to find the money. It’s what we specialize in, day in and day out.