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Jan 13, 2006
Last Everglades Homesteader Relents, Sells

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) -- A homesteader leaving his Everglades land after years of fighting the state's claim on it is moving to a bigger, nicer house, but he mourns what he's lost.

"I will never see the turkeys run up and down the road again," said Jesse Hardy, 70. "I will never see my deer feed in my yard again. ... I will never be able to freely do what I wanted to do."

Hardy's land was the last of 19,000 parcels purchased by the state over the past two decades to help return the Everglades to its natural state. Most owners happily sold, having bought in a 1960s land scam.

Hardy rejected repeated offers, however, saying he wanted to hang onto a dying rural lifestyle and pass it on to the 9-year-old boy he has raised on the land with the boy's mother.

A judge approved a settlement last year, and Hardy accepted a $4.95 million check in July. The deadline for him to leave the property was Thursday.

Hardy paid $60,000 in 1976 for the land about 40 miles east of Naples. He built a small, clapboard house on his 160 acres, dug a well and used propane instead of electricity.

With the settlement money, Hardy bought a new house and was moving his belongings into it this week, but he says it really isn't home for him. "It don't fit me, it don't fit me at all," he said.

Construction crews are scheduled to start filling in canals and tearing apart roads on Hardy's Everglades land later this year. Once restored, his parcel and the surrounding area will connect with a state forest and wildlife reserves.

The $8.4 billion Everglades project seeks to restore the slow-moving river that once stretched uninterrupted from a chain of lakes near Orlando south to Florida Bay.


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