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Roots of Resilience: Exploring Pinellas County’s Environmental Preservation Initiatives

In this episode, we had West Klosterman Preservation Group as they shared their journey in preserving acres of natural habitat in Pinellas County amidst developer interest. From collaborating with the school board to navigating the million dollars raised to save this area.

The episode explores their successful efforts to save community centers, secure funding, and the vital role of small-scale preservation in environmental sustainability. Learn more about this nonprofit organization and how it strives to educate the community on conservation.

Listen to the podcast episode here!

Today’s guests are Kay Kennedy Carter & W. L. “Tex” Carter. They are two of the founding members of The WK Preservation Group, a nonprofit organization to preserve the last remaining natural habitats in Pinellas County and beyond. The WK  Preservation Group started in 2020, as a response to 14 acres, owned by the Pinellas County School Board being put up for sale, and trying to be sold to developers to build condos on the land. 

Now, they still need our help raising funds for this land, they’ve been successful in securing and raising money to be able to purchase the property, but they still need our help,  I said, for purchasing this land and future projects down the road. 

Now, in this episode, we talked about how this group came together. And please share this episode with one friend who would find it valuable. Let’s jump in. So welcome to the podcast.


Well, thank you.


Thank you, Donnie, thanks for having us.


I’m excited to have you guys here to learn more about your project, and what you guys are doing for the community. And, just see how the community can help support you guys even further than what they already have.

So you guys are part of the West Klostermann preserve group. Let’s start at the beginning.  How did this start? Where did this? Where did this idea come from? And kind of the then we’ll kind of, jump into, where’s it going in the future of it? 

I’ll start in about December of 2019, the school board was faced with a decision to go ahead and sell this piece of property that we now call the West cluster members or they had this property that they’d had for 30 years. And they were not going to use it for any school purposes. 

And the state kind of said if you want money from us, you’re gonna have to liquidate these properties that you have that can bring you some funds. And so they put it up for sale on their property– real estate people. 

I don’t know how they do that. However, they did it, there was no sign on the gate. There was no indication that it was being sold. So the neighbors didn’t know it. Until one day in January, when there was some commotion, there were people across the street when the neighbors saw it, went over there and said, What are you all doing here? 

And they said, Well, we’re about to sell this property. And he went home, and he made up a bunch of flyers and went out to the neighbors and said, We got to stop this. This is a property that’s been connected to the Mariners Point Management area, which is a preserved piece of property that it shares a border with. 

And so they had a big meeting of the neighbors, and they got together and they were ready as a grassroots group to go to the school board and say, Don’t do this and be a bit confrontational. We texted and I kind of got involved. 

I said I agree with this, but I don’t the confrontational way. Sure. So if I want to be part of it, we’re gonna have to do a more collaborative approach. And kind of, from that initial, they had already gone to the school board once and, took a very confrontational approach. 

And it didn’t work, it didn’t work and surprise, and so COVID hit at that time and, and things were changing because of that. We took a very small group, and we formed a 501 C three and started working with them in a more collaborative way to try to show them that we were serious, that we had good reasons for not wanting this particular piece of property developed because that was the plan was to come in and bulldoze it and build a bunch of condos, which would have gotten rid of all the wildlife and the flora and fauna there.  

The background is quite explained that the bidding for the process was only open to developers who were planning to build condominiums. And that was the stated purpose of their bids. Their proposals came in around $3.3 million. 

As we started meeting with the school board, and learning more about the property and its history, we realized that they hadn’t done anything to improve it for 30, the 30 years that they had owned it. Before that, it had never been developed or changed from what it was certain original nature. 

So it was very much a part of the same echo system as the Mariner Point Management Area. Together the animals and trees that lived on it, considered it to be one piece of property and they didn’t care about the fences. 

Okay, good. The Mariner’s Point Management Area is the lowlands of this. This particular property is the upland or upland section. So for our complete ecosystem, it was perfect.  The habitat of the animals and things on the Uplands would use the lowlands for their food supplies. And so, it’s going to change it. 

So taking that away,  really destroys what’s already preserved

It would have a serious impact on preserving what was already there. And it would, of course, disappear as a preserve on its own, which it had been functioning as a preserve we met with the school board and discussed the nature of the property and the nature of the preserve, and the fact that it was adjacent to that other Preserve.

And early on, we were seen as Who are these guys, a small group of neighbors, NIMBYs not in my backyard type people who want us to develop this property? But as we communicated with them, we developed some converts within the school board themselves, of people who did want to respect the environmental value of the property and the environmental value of that overall area. 

And so we, one by one, converted school board members to supporters nice and, and created with the school board business team, the idea that we were a viable entity because we went from, call it a dozen early supporters to over 1000 people who had donated or voted or somehow expressed support for us. And that had some meaning for the school board themselves, they saw us go from being a small group of neighbors to a 501 C three with registered charity capability, and recognition by the Internal Revenue Service in the state of Florida, that was a real entity, all of that came together to help us acquire donations, acquire, support, and then start working with other agencies to try to raise money. 

The original offer from the developers to the school board was a $3.3 million offer, that they were very close to coming to a contract on and letting loose with the bulldozers. We got, literally the contract signed by the developer and not signed by the school board, VA had our first successful meeting with them, where they said, Wait a minute, maybe you make sense. And so they agreed to one discount the price from 3.3 million to 3 million. 

And they still had to raise the money because that’s what’s required by law. Sure, for an asset, they can’t just donate it. The $3 million price was agreed. And they said We’ll give you a year to raise that money. And we’ll tell the developers to go away and stand by and if you’re not going to be successful, we may invite them back. 

So they did create a one-year timeframe for us to raise money. During that year, we went from being a startup charity to having raised enough money and developed enough presence in the community, that the school board, at the end of the One Year said you guys are credible, this is a project we want to do. And so we’ll give you the amount of time that it’s going to take for you to raise money. Wow, that’s amazing. 

With that kind of commitment from the school board to the deal, we were then able to start approaching the state legislators who represented our area, and also get an agreement with the county to take on the property. If we were able to save it, they would take it on as an attachment to the existing party. We

We never intended to own the property. We always intended to hopefully have the county say yes, or accept and will take responsibility for maintaining it. Sure. It’s a low-maintenance type property if it stays as a preserve, and it’s a minimal amount of investment in their time and effort. 

If it’s a low-impact park, but our first desire would be to maintain it as a preserve, then, if it’s necessary to save it to have it be a low-impact park, we’re kind of okay with that. Our first desire is to just keep it as a preserve so that the habitat is there. It’s something as we’re protected. I retired here in 2019. 

We had our place and we had been coming back and forth because we have four grandsons here. Okay, you guys, so you guys just moved to Florida. You’re probably when this all started happening, which I guess was good because when you first moved someplace you have more time than once you’re already involved in everything. Sure. So we have devoted a lot of time to it. But I don’t know where he’s gonna go with it. 

Well, I think what’s interesting is what you guys are doing is, that the parks that we do have already   John Chestnut Park Springs Park,  that’s how it goes. Parks are preserved, and those parks are there because people 50, 60, 70 years ago said, No, this is this island, we want to say so it’s pretty cool. 

And it’s pretty it’s it’s valuable for your county residents. Kane County has come along, and they’re gonna jump now if I get into the county because today they have

So as I said, earlier, we started, we got the commitment from the school board that we could go ahead and pursue this piece of property, and the overall objective of creating a preserve, and they would give us time to do it. So then we started working with state representatives, and got an allocation of $3 million and the state budget two years ago, the $3 million was approved by the legislature, but then it wasn’t funded by the government. 

So we, we had $3 million, we were wildly happy it was, and then it was vetoed and taken out of the budget. We had a second attempt by this legislature to help us fund the project. And they provided a two-and-a-half million dollar applicant allocation. In another fund that the state had in a round of hurricane Adalia, a lot of that money got shuffled around, and we ended up losing our two and a half million dollars, we’ve raised five and a half million dollars for a $3 million commitment, but we don’t know we do have. 

So this is the credibility and the support that we got from the school board, and people at large. And then from the state representatives themselves, all his has come together in a way that the county has said, Okay, we get this, we’re going to help. And so what Kay was about to say is that the county in August of this year, approved a one and a half million dollars, August of last year, approved one and a half million dollars to make half of the purchase price of the property available to us. And so that one and a half million dollars has been approved. It’s already funded. And that’s in the county from the county wonderful. And so that leaves us with the remaining one and a half million dollars to raise where we are financially for this project.

But where we are with this project is that we’ve got the 1.5 million dollar commitment from the county, we have a little over $750,000 in donations and commitments from private donors, people you and me, okay, who put up money are offered to pledge money, including a, a young, retired school teacher from Pinellas County who put up $31K – $35K of her own for a matching campaign. And we have a great picture of her on our website, hugging a tree.  You got to Sally McConnell doing that. Visiting the website is pretty interesting because it gives the whole history that we’ve been trying to describe, and there are a lot of cute pictures of kids and little old ladies and people who have all come together to try to create the project. 

The county has committed, it’s one and a half million dollars, and there’s no deadline on matching it. So we have to go from where we are today, about 780 up to raising one and a half million. And so we’ve got a deficit today and 720,000 people you helping with your podcast, people helping in other ways. We want to continue to reach out to the community and raise the rest of that money. 

And then we’ll create the WK Preserve. It will then become county property to operate and maintain preserve for the people of Pinellas County going forward.

We’re in discussion on that.  It will be sometime this year. But we don’t know the exact date yet. Hopefully, we’ll know that in the next month. What that actual deadline is, but it will be this year. Now that we have committed to the county. It is a lot easier to approach large donors. This is a project that you can give to and feel reassured that it’s going to be completed, it’s gonna and that’s that’s something that’s gonna make it happen. 

Roots of Resilience: Exploring Pinellas County's Environmental Preservation Initiatives

I’m sure there’s  a comfort level for that when people are donating If this is legitimate

And as an organization, we intend to continue this. Pinellas County is, as everyone knows, the most densely populated county in Florida. And there are still a few, not a whole lot of areas similar to this one that have real environmental value and shouldn’t be developed. We’re not opposed to development. I don’t want to give that impression. 

But we are very much interested in trying to maintain some of those environmentally sensitive, environmentally important pieces, a few pieces of property that are left in this area, and hopefully, if we are successful, we can go on to other areas. I kind of see this starting to happen in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, so you can see it happening.

So, take me back to, your background,  before you guys moved to. Do you guys have any experience opening up a charity, or a business? And what did you guys do before? 

We’ve learned a lot here. We’ve moved around the world, in our 50-plus years of marriage. And started, I’ve started a lot of organizations, but never an environmental organization, and never a 501 C three, but worked with a lot of volunteers. 

So that has helped us. Tex has worked in the industry and done a lot of contract work. And so that’s helped us. We have people who have come along, we have a social media person. And that’s what she does. Everything we do is all volunteers. 

So our expenses are extremely low for an organization, because essentially, it’s, it’s what it costs us to run our website when it costs us to carry the insurance that we have or do the filing fees that we have to pay. But there’s no, nothing that any of us, we don’t get any money out of it.

We put money into it. Sure. So we’ve had wonderful people come along and, and offer their services and offer their expertise to help us along the way.

We do have a great team. And it’s people who live in South County, St. Petersburg, people who live in Tampa, people who live in Tarpon Springs. And so people all over the county have come together around this goal. 

And not only that, we’ve had people who live out of state and be with us. So our biggest donor $250,000 fund that’s based in Indianapolis. That’s amazing. But he used to vacation here when he was a kid. 

He loved Florida, and he loved what Florida’s environment looks. And so he said, My Family Foundation is going to challenge the rest of you guys down in Florida. We’ll put up $250,000. See if you can use that to help raise more money. And so that’s a good story.

That’s amazing. I would have loved to have gone back in, when Pinellas County was just orange groves and not developed just to see what it looked then it would have just been cool. How many volunteers do you guys have now?

I don’t even know. Hardcore volunteers, probably 3030 or 40. penna these are people who show up at events and around our table in our tent and solicit donations. We have a a professional sponsorship program, where we have a few people who go out and meet with businesses and companies and say, Would you put our logo in your window? And would you to have some brochures? And oh, by the way, would you donate a little bit to us, and we give them presents on our website.

This is a brand new program that we’ve branded as of now. Okay,

So summing out, some of the first people have signed up, and we’re, giving them presents on our website. We push them in our social media so that they’re known. You’re gonna get that request. And we’ll put you out on our website as well but the idea is that the group is growing and it’s growing. Not just around the West Klosterman preserve, which is the first project, but around the idea of environmental preservation for Pinellas County. And those, as Jay said, save the small slices of paradise that still exist.

Why is this important to you guys?

It’s important for the next generations.  We’re in our 70s it’s not going to impact us. But it’s going to impact our grandkids and, and the future generations, and we’re responsible for that. , if we don’t won’t leave them the opportunity to have what we had, then we’ve done a poor job.

We’ve lived and worked in places like Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and other parts of the country here, Chile. And as we’ve moved around the world, we’ve seen the difference in a good solid environmental attitude and the public makes versus the extreme over-development that China in places like Tokyo or Taiwan, and we want to, we want to maintain that level of environmental, sustainable development. For the areas where we live, and where we can contribute,

We have a little game that we use, it’s one of our events, to kind of let children understand what we’re all about, we line up to jump ropes, and far enough apart that a child can’t jump from one side to the other. We ask them to pretend to be an animal of their choosing and get from where they’re standing on one side of the jump rope to the other. 

Because that’s where their food supply is going to be. And they’ll go, we can’t we can’t get that far. And then we take a couple of hula hoops and lay them on the ground. And we say, okay, can you jump from that? From where you are to that hula hoop, and then to that other hula hoop? And then can you get there? And they’re we can do that, we could do that. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to save those little slices of paradise, those little things that allow the environment to continue, because you got the resources for the plants, the animals, the insects everything they can get from one to the other. So to be able to be sustainable. And so I think that that it’s a good example of what we’re trying to do.

I think it’s a good idea to, or a good thought that it doesn’t take much that you don’t need hundreds of acres to preserve preserve these small little plots of land that we still have. And it still makes a huge impact on the community. 

We’ve got the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which is an amazing project and is important. But this is, is deemed as these little slices of land that are just as important. And especially in these areas where it’s so densely populated. And to Danny’s point one of the things that is the case is that a small piece of property may not attract the same attention in the same support. As you said earlier, wall springs. 

Remember, some of the larger places, the larger parks attract attention, the smaller slices of paradise. They need some sponsorship. And that’s what we’re trying to. And so I saw on the website, you guys have tours of the of preserves, we do that to, bring awareness to allow people to experience it, exactly. 

We have a tour this Sunday, the 21st we try not to bring too many people through there on a tour because we want to keep the low impact. Keep the low impact, so that people can sign up for a tour they can see for themselves. The beauty of this property, they can look across the fence at the Mariner Point management area we want to keep intact as well. may see a gopher tortoise may see a bald eagle. 

There are a lot of cool critters out there. You’ll see gopher tortoise holes because there is they’re hard.

And a lot of wildlife. And as you go through the season, you can see different flowers and different plants. And then you see the upland nature of the property is where the Florida rosemary, which is an endangered species. 

We have one of those guys on our property. We have giant air plants, which are threatened species, we have the gopher tortoises, which are also a threatened species. So a lot of it is out there and people can get close to it, see it upfront, and then understand the relationship with a small slice of paradise to the rest of what’s available for people.

As we’ve been involved in this week.  I said we can learn so much not just about how to start a 501 C three, but also about the environment. Yep. Things that I just never really thought about people our age, we just really were not as aware of the environment as we needed it to be. And as young people or young people are today, which is good. 

It’s sad too because things are just gopher tortoises.  They know there are mitigation things that they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to dig them up when they develop property. They’re supposed to go in and dig up any that they can find and then move them to another place. 

That’s supposedly a good habitat. But what they found is that gopher tortoises have a huge homing, developed homing instinct and they want to go back to their property and they will dig their way out of those places. says, and then they get killed. And the food supply isn’t enough in those places. So then they die. So it’s we need to maintain habitat for them, or we will lose them. And they’re a keystone species, meaning that their burrows are home to over 60 other species. And so without them, then those other species will die. 

Yep, little things about gopher tortoises and baby gopher tortoises will dig a hole. When it gets too big for a toll, it won’t make it bigger, it will go dig a new hole. And that hole becomes the habitat for another critter. Okay, and as they get bigger and bigger, they just did more and more homes for other critters. That’s why they’re called keystone species.

When I growing up,  I was always outside, and I think we were, maybe my generation was the last to always be outside growing up. But I think that’s where my love for the outdoors kind of developed. And then, as I mentioned before. 

I have a degree in biology, and I learned from Dr. Hugo. And that’s where my my passion just kind of flourished and began to appreciate how everything is intertwined.  and it’s, it’s it’s amazing. And it’s it’s it just to build an experience that. So that is to say that land is super important, just the parks that we have,  I mentioned Wall Springs and John Chess night,  those are those are great places to visit and have so much wildlife.

And so much needs to be preserved. Yes. And thank you for inviting us to your podcast, but you’re certainly invited to come out. And I’ll give you a personal tour. I would love that. I love that. That’s what’s planned for the future so you preserve the best costume What do you guys have anything identify next? 

We have a couple of things that we’re not ready to release the obstruction on one of the problems is that as soon as you let people know the price kind of goes up. And it’s so hard to imagine that. So, we’re very close-mouthed until we get kind of a commitment on pricing and, and all of that. And we also want to be able to say we’ve got this success. So we’ve got to get this done so that we can move on. 



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