Split Oak Forest is what many call a hidden jewel -- a park and preserve near Narcoossee Road where people hike and ride horseback.
- Split Oak Forest preserve in Orange, Osceola counties
- Osceola Parkway extension plan calls for splitting the preserve
- Environmentalists asked Orange County leaders to get involved
But officials are considering splitting Split Oak Forest. The serene sounds of birds chirping may soon be interrupted with a busy road.
"We don't want to see an expressway through this," said Marty Sullivan, an environmental enthusiast. Sullivan is the chairman for Natural Resources for the League of Woman Voters of Orange County.
Osceola Parkway is getting bigger, and that extension could push right through Split Oak, which is owned by both Orange and Osceola Counties.
Most of the people at Tuesday's Orange County Commission meeting were there because of this issue.
"Taking it away is wrong in so many levels and actually a slap in the face," said one resident.
While there are other options, engineers say putting the expressway down the middle of this preserve is the preferred route.
Sullivan believes it comes down to finances.
"They said it would be almost $250 million additional land acquisition -- right of way acquisition, to put it around Split Oak,” Sullivan explained. “Well that's speculative land value, is what we're talking about."
Several environmental groups put together a resolution for commissioners to review.
"But I think before we make decision as a board if we're going to weigh on this, there's a lot of things we need to consider," Mayor Teresa Jacobs said.
Sullivan said he cares for the sake of the generations to come, especially his granddaughter.
"But I would like her, her children and her children's children to enjoy this,” he said.
We tried to do an interview with the project manager for the engineering group conducting the “Project Development and Environment” study, but they did not want to comment.
The Osceola County Expressway Authority will be having a meeting to talk about this on March 14.
OCX Chairman Atlee Mercer issued this statement:
“OCX has committed to building our expressways in the most environmentally conscious way possible. The Poinciana Parkway bridge over Reedy Creek is the perfect example of taking what was permitted and installing something that was substantially better, radically more environmentally friendly, and frankly much more expensive -- but was the right thing to do. We intend to do the same with the Split Oak crossing.”