Fakahatchee Strand was purchased by the Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company in 1913 for $1.4 million for the sole purpose of logging the cypress. Fortunately, logging did not begin until 1944 as a war-time measure but continued until the early 1950s.
It is thought that the real estate boom of the mid-1920s and subsequent depression years, caused the lag time in commencing major logging operations. In 1922, an agent for Henry Ford obtained an option to purchase the Strand with the sole intention of giving it to the state as a park. Unfortunately, that offer did not materialize.
Between 1948 to 1964 preservation attempts were made, but all failed. In 1948, Dan Beard, superintendent of Everglades National Park inspected the Strand and recommended it for a National Monument. At that time, approximately one million board feet of cypress were being removed per week. He pointed out that the density of mammalian life at the Strand was greater than that of Everglades National Park. This included the Florida black bear, Florida panther, mangrove fox, and a wide diversity of other wildlife. In 1964, Miami attorney and conservationist, Mel Finn (1916 – 1971) made an attempt to preserve the Strand. His attempt also failed.
In 1966, the Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company sold the Strand to the Gulf-American Land Company, which later became G. A. C. Properties, Inc. GAC then developed the Golden Gate Estate areas selling many 1 ¼-acre lots. It was during this time period; three sections of the Strand were donated to Collier County for a park.
After the 1972 Land Conservation Act (Chapter 259, F.S.), was passed with the purpose to protect the environmentally unique and irreplaceable lands of Florida. Later in the year, a $240 million bond issue was approved by the Florida voters. This set-in motion Florida’s first major environmental land acquisition, under the program known as the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program.
In 1972 the State began its forty-year acquisition negotiations with GAC. At the same time, GAC attempted to regain possession of lots it had sold and offered to sell its holdings to the State. While during the negotiations, there was a temporary halt when GAC was prosecuted for alleged dredge and fill violations at Cape Coral in Collier County. The litigation was resolved with GAC offering to pay for damages by trading land in the Fakahatchee Strand. The settlement resulted in the State acquiring approximately 9,523 acres south of US Highway 41.
The beginning of a continuous acquisition effort started in June 1974, which the first purchase of land creating the Fakahatchee Strand State Park was made. Approximately 44,000 acres had been acquired by 1978 and by 1999, the Preserve consisted of 69,896 acres. Approximately 34,727 of those acres were acquired under the EEL program. When that program came to an end, the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Program began. Under CARL, the project has been expanded to include lands between the older project and State Road 29.
Roughly 16,700 acres remain to be acquired. It is hoped that funding allows for the acquisition efforts will continue.
The Mel Finn Award
Called “the Father of Fakahatchee” for his personal crusade to save the Fakahatchee Strand. On April 24, 1998, the Friends of Fakahatchee dedicated a plaque to Mel Finn. It is prominently located on a large piece of limestone in front of the park office.
“The Mel Finn Award” is given to individuals who have given their time to benefit the Fakahatachee and who, as it states on the award, “reflect the spirit of the founding father of the FSSP.”