The Tortoise and the Scrub: Saving the Gladys Douglas Preserve

Leigh Davis, Pinellas Community Foundation

In 2020, a grassroots movement began in Dunedin to save a property called the Gladys Douglas Preserve, named for its late owner, a beloved businesswoman and philanthropist. It is the largest undeveloped sandy ecosystem remaining in North Pinellas County, filled with sand pine, gopher tortoises, and rare rosemary scrub. $10 million was needed to save the property from private redevelopment, and most pressing was the deadline set by the Douglas estate to raise the funds by the end of January 2021.

Community members approached Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF) to organize a more concerted fundraising effort. Several well-respected organizations were involved, including the Sierra Club, Florida Native Plant Society, Blue-Green Connections, WK Preservation Group, and Preserve the Douglas Hackworth Property Group. The organizations jointly agreed to have PCF serve as the chief fundraising partner, where all contributions could be directed and held. PCF was chosen due to its ability to use flexible fundraising strategies, such as conditional pledges and the processing of unique gifts, and its relationships with civic leaders, media, and government officials throughout Pinellas.

An advisory committee was created to foster new collaborations, keep the environmental impact and plans for public use in the forefront of the media, and coordinate efforts to fundraise with donors at all levels. Ultimately, the goal was reached with $4.5 million of public funds and $5.5 million of private donations.

This effort also leveraged $2.4 million of additional funding from the Florida Communities Trust grant program. Bonus points were awarded based on community involvement and the incredible feat of having over 1,000 unique donors. It became the highest-scoring project in Florida. This effort shows the power of public-private partnerships and how collaboration and community can help reach a lofty goal, ensuring this vital habitat can be protected and enjoyed by all for generations to come.

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