Photo by Suzette Cook/University of Florida SFFGS special to Alachua County Today

GAINESVILLE ‒ More than 70 youth from 16 counties attended the annual Florida 4-H Forest Ecology contest on Saturday, March 30 at University of Florida School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Science’s Austin Cary Forest in Gainesville. The enthusiastic contestants, ages 8 to 18, demonstrated impressive knowledge of forest ecology and management.

To prepare for this contest, 4-Hers studied topics including compass and pacing; forest health; forest management; tree measurement; and identifying ecosystems, trees, and wildlife. One junior 4-Her said the best thing about the contest was “getting to learn about nature with my friends.”

Thirty volunteers from the University of Florida, the U.S Forest Service and other state agencies, plus local community members made this contest possible.

The competition concluded with awards to the high scorers. Pinellas County Senior Jocelyn Wood took the blue ribbon in individual scoring. In addition to that ribbon, Wood won a $500 scholarship to UF’s SFFGS.

“I am so excited because I am going to use that scholarship,” she said. “My mind is blown.”

Wood said she will attend the University of Florida in the fall and will study forestry at SFFGS.

Alachua County’s William Pruden won first place in the highest individual scoring for the Intermediate group.

And students Lane Taylor, Kylie Goodson, Cora Taylor, Ada Perryman from Marion County won first place in the team effort for seniors.

State 4-H Events Coordinator Courtney Quirie congratulated participants and thanked parents and event planners for their support. “I can’t wait to hear what you all do at nationals,” she said to the winners during the awards ceremony.

Contest Coordinator Elise Cassie, who also serves as the Project Learning Tree Coordinator for SFFGS, said the event was a success.

“The Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest is a unique opportunity for youth to explore the world around them, find life affirming skills, and connect with other who share the same interests,” Cassie said. “This is the only program that I know of in the state that offers this and it deserves all of the support we can provide.”

The highest scoring senior team is eligible to compete in the National 4-H Forestry Invitational which will be held in July at the Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Conference Center in Weston, West Virginia. Florida won the 2023 competition.

This year’s contest winners:

The highest individual scoring Juniors (ages 8 to 10) were:

First Place Jada Foucha from Sumter County

Second Place Jocelyn Gardis from Leon County

Third Place Addison Upton from Marion County

The highest scoring Junior teams were:

First Place Addilyn Childs, Jada Foucha, Caroline Cattrell from Sumter County

Second Place Addalynn Upton, Callie Rae Cassidy from Marion County

Third Place Eden Wilkins, Ava Balzersen, Lily Toman from Sumter County

The highest individual scoring Intermediate (ages 11-13) were:

First Place William Pruden from Alachua County

Second Place Isabella Wise from Okaloosa County

Third Place Madison Wall Marion County

The highest scoring Intermediate teams were:

First Place Caleb Force, Forest DeRoy, Jacob Metzgar, Madison Wall from Marion County

Second Place Isabella Wise, Kaden Wise, Kayleigh Thames from Okaloosa County

Third Place Charles Wood, Charlotte Watkins, Christian Galiano, Ellis Godfrey from Pinellas County

The highest individual scoring Seniors (ages 14 to 19) were:

First Place Jocelyn Wood from Pinellas County

Second Place Ada Perryman from Marion County

Third Place Helena Peterson from St. Johns County

The highest scoring Senior teams were:

First Place Lane Taylor, Kylie Goodson, Cora Taylor, Ada Perryman from Marion County

Second Place Annalise Watkins, Jocelyn Wood, Maleah Godfrey, Wesley Wood from Pinellas

Third Place Helena Peterson, Juliette Wells, Savannah Wells, Waylon Wells from St. Johns County

Volunteer help is critical to the success of the contest, whether it is with scoring, leading 4-H groups, or helping at one of the stations. Find out how you can help with next year’s event by contacting Elise Cassie at

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ALACHUA – Environmental science students from Cornerstone Academy in Gainesville joined University of 

Florida PhD researchers and City of Alachua officials on a tour of the Mill Creek Wetland Park in Alachua on Monday, April 15.

The tour offered students the opportunity to learn about and see firsthand the innovative methods used to treat urban stormwater runoff before it reaches the aquifer. They interacted directly with UF researchers, discussing the equipment used for water sampling and the park's importance in recharging the Floridan aquifer.

Dr. Basil Iannone, an Assistant Professor at UF, researches sustainable methods of managing natural resources as Florida continues to grow in population. Iannone emphasized the significance of the park in mitigating environmental impacts caused by human population growth. “We are thrilled about opportunities like this,” Iannone said. “It’s exciting to see nature-based solutions to the challenges presented by urbanization.

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ALACHUA ‒ Incumbent city commissioner Jennifer Blalock won the majority of votes in the City of Alachua election conducted on April 9. Blalock faced off against Eric L. Ford for Seat 5 on the Alachua City Commission. With 409 votes, Blalock handily defeated Ford, who garnered 336 votes.

Voters casting ballots at the Turkey Creek polling location voted for Blalock with 236 votes to Ford’s 27 votes. Legacy Park voters cast 128 ballots for Blalock compared to 99 ballots cast for Ford. Ford pulled down 152 votes at the Cleather Hathcock Community Center polling location compared to Blalock’s 27 at the same precinct. In the absentee or “vote by mail” precinct meanwhile, Ford picked up 58 ballots to Blalock’s 19 votes.

Through a press release from the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP, the organization expressed alarm over “mishaps and inoperable situations” at the Cleather Hathcock polling location. The NAACP branch claimed the issues resulted in the precinct being “down” for more than two hours.

According to City officials, however, what happened at the Cleather Hathcock Community Center polling location was simply a surge protector issue, resulting in ballot tabulation machines being down for about five minutes.

Following the NAACP’s claims, City officials clarified that in the short period of time while the machines were down, no one was refused a ballot. Additionally, the City stated that the five ballots cast while the machines were down were placed in an emergency auxiliary box and later added into the total tabulation for the polling precinct.

Blalock’s re-election places the incumbent in the seat for another three years. No one challenged incumbent Commissioner Shirley Green Brown for Seat 4, meaning she will also be re-seated for another three years.

Seat 1, held by Mayor Gib Coerper, and Seat 2, held by Commissioner Ed Potts, will be on the ballot in 2025. Seat 3, held by Commissioner Dayna Miller, will not be reopened until the expiration of her term in 2026.

As of the April 9 election, there were 8,174 registered voters in the City of Alachua. The most recent turnout of 745 votes amounts to a 9.1 percent voter turnout.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs Fire Department has announced the appointment of Joseph Peters as the new Fire Chief, effective May 6, 2024.

The City’s Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan in a press release said Peters has an extensive background in the fire service and a passion for community safety, adding that Peters brings a wealth of experience and leadership to his new role, describing his 30 years of dedication in serving the public in various capacities within the fire department. Peters served 14 years with the Mount Dora Fire Department, where he rose to the rank of Captain, and seven years with The Villages Public Safety, as a Lieutenant. More recently, Peters served as Chief in Ford City, PA before relocating back to Florida, where he currently works as Training Coordinator of the Havana Volunteer Fire Department, and Life Support Educator at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

“It is an honor to be chosen as the next Fire Chief of High Springs,” said Peters in the press release. “I am privileged to be part of a very talented and dedicated team and look forward to becoming part of the High Springs community.”

City Manager Jeremy Marshall weighed in on Peters’ appointment saying, “The City of High Springs is very excited about the appointment of Chief Peters.” Marshall continued, “Chief Peters comes with a vast set of skills and experience that will greatly contribute to the success of the department.”

The press release further states that throughout his career, Peters has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, strategic vision, and a dedication to professional development. His expertise in emergency response protocols, community outreach initiatives, and personnel management will be invaluable assets as he assumes his new role.

Mangan said that Peters succeeds former Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham who retired after decades of dedicated service to the High Springs community, and that the department expresses its sincere gratitude to Chief Gillingham for his leadership and contributions over the years.

The High Springs Fire Department has expressed its confidence under Peters' guidance, saying that it will continue to uphold its reputation as a premier emergency response agency, dedicated to serving and protecting the community with professionalism, integrity, and compassion.

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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua has taken a step toward updating its Code of Ordinances that regulates alcoholic beverages on public property. The City Commission at its April 8, 2024, meeting held a public hearing to consider allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold, served, delivered, or consumed on the City’s Legacy Park property.

The City’s Codes regulates alcoholic beverages and specifies the hours of sale, location of sale, and possession of the consumption of alcohol on public and private property. Proposed Ordinance 24-08 would amend current codes to permit alcoholic beverages to be sold, served, delivered, or consumed at Legacy Park.

Prior to 2015, alcoholic beverages were prohibited from being sold, served, delivered to another, or consumed in any municipal park or recreation area and on any municipally leased, operated, or controlled property or area, including public right-of-way. In July 2015, the Code was amended to permit alcoholic beverages to be sold, served, delivered, and consumed at the Swick House when the facility was rented for a private event, such as for wedding receptions.

In February 2018, the City again amended its Code to permit alcoholic beverages to be sold, served, delivered, and consumed during specified events at the downtown Theatre Park and the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center.

In 2020, Phase 2 of Legacy Park, which included the addition of three multipurpose sports fields and the amphitheater, was completed. Since that time, the City has received numerous requests to host events at Legacy Park where alcoholic beverages would be available.

The current proposed amendment will add the Legacy Park property as a designated City property where alcoholic beverages may be sold, served, delivered, or consumed. This amendment would permit the sale, service, delivery, and consumption of alcoholic beverages during events requiring a Special Event Permit issued by the City of Alachua under specific circumstances including:

Individual personal consumption at a fundraising event sponsored by a governmental entity;

Individual personal consumption by a not-for-profit entity that charges admission for the event but does not charge for the delivery of alcoholic beverages;

As permitted in accordance with a rental agreement which specifies such terms and conditions and permits the sale, service, or delivery for individual personal consumption during the period of the rental agreement.

Commissioner Jennifer Blalock made a motion to approve the ordinance update with Commissioner Shirley Green Brown providing the second. The measure was passed unanimously with a 4-0 vote.

It is anticipated that the second and final reading of Ordinance 24-08 will be held on April 22, 2024.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ A 23-year-old Alachua man was arrested at about 4 a.m. Sunday, April 7, after allegedly crashing a party multiple times, fighting with and threatening to kill the guests and resisting Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officers.

Officers responded to a private party being held at the Pi Kappa Alpha house, 1904 West University Ave. Two house residents and a former resident told the officer that Dominique Tremaine Stanback crashed the party and was asked to leave.

They said he left and they locked the gate. The victims told the officer that Stanback then climbed the eight-foot fence and jumped. The three victims and several other guests reportedly pulled him out of the bushes and checked to see if he was injured. Stanback allegedly started punching several guests with one of the victims reportedly restraining him in a choke hold until he began to lose consciousness. The victims told the officer that they carried Stanback off the property, ensured that he was breathing properly, called 911 and again locked Stanback outside the fence.

The victims said that Stanback walked around the property’s fence and told the victims that he was going to get a firearm from his car and come back to kill them. He eventually found an opening in the fence and allegedly gained access to the property again and charged at the victims in an attempt to start a fight. The three victims said they were able to detain him before he could strike them, but Stanback allegedly kept trying to fight until one of the victims placed him in another choke hold until he began to lose consciousness.

The GPD officer reported that Stanback was still on the property when he arrived, but when he tried to interview him, Stanback allegedly assumed a fighting pose and advanced toward one of the victims in an apparent attempt to fight him. The officer reported that Stanback twice tried to push past him to get to the victim. Stanback allegedly resisted being handcuffed, but the officer eventually forced him against a fence and forced his arms behind him.

Once Stanback was placed under arrest, he allegedly refused to get into a patrol car and then forced his feet into the door jamb to prevent officers from closing the patrol car door. Officers attempted to hobble his legs, but he also allegedly resisted by kicking toward the officers who were applying the hobble. He then allegedly laid back in the seat, with his head preventing the closure of the opposite door and resisted efforts to get him to sit up.

Officers transported him to a hospital for clearance, where he allegedly twisted around and grabbed the door handle to prevent officers from opening the patrol car door to get him out of the car. Officers reported that he had to be physically picked up and placed in a wheelchair, where he allegedly continued to resist efforts to move him to a hospital bed for medical evaluation.

Stanback has been charged with one count of trespassing, three counts of assault, and one count of resisting an officer without violence. He has no criminal history.

Bail was set at $30,000 by Judge Susan Miller-Jones.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ Incoming kindergarten families are invited to bring their children to the annual Alachua County Public Schools Kindergarten Round-Up to become familiar with the school they’ll be attending in the fall.

All elementary schools that serve kindergarten students will be opening their doors Wednesday, April 24 at 2 p.m. Children and their parents/guardians will have a chance to talk to teachers and staff, tour the campus and learn more about their school.

The first day for students in the 2024-25 school year will be Monday, Aug. 12 for students at most schools. There will be a new year-round schedule for Metcalfe and Rawlings elementary schools for the upcoming school year, with school starting in July for students at those schools. A final calendar for Metcalfe and Rawlings will likely be voted on by the school board on April 16.

Under Florida law, children must be five years old on or before Sept. 1 to enroll in kindergarten.

Parents can begin the online registration process for their incoming kindergarten students and any student who will be new to the district on April 24 by going to Before school starts, preferably well in advance, they will also need to provide to their child’s zoned school several required documents, including a birth certificate, proof of a physical exam performed sometime within the last year, immunization records, and two proofs of residence in the parent’s name. Examples of a proof of residence include a lease agreement, a property tax statement, a utility bill or other documents.

Schools are open during the summer months to help families with enrollment.

Families who aren’t sure what school their child will be attending can visit or call the district’s Office of Student Assignment at 352-955-7700.

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