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How long does it take to raise $20.6 million? For the residents of tony Boca Grande, just 60 days, for one of the largest land purchases in the region’s history. Famously protective of their island’s natural resources, more than 1,100 area residents shelled out—some making multi-million-dollar donations—so the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association could buy 30 acres of waterfront property in Placida, at the entrance to the Boca Grande Causeway. The property had housed a shuttered hotel and convention center and boat storage facility. The group plans to maintain it as a nature preserve for wildlife, birds and marine animals. They’ve removed the buildings and finished replanting the property in December.

The number of donors is especially impressive because Boca Grande has only about 1,000 residents year-round and 4,000 during the winter. “People were concerned about what could have been built there in the future,” says the conservation group’s executive director, Misty Nichols. “And they were also excited about protecting nature.” She says gifts came from across the board, from workers and residents of neighboring communities to ultra-wealthy snowbirds. Some contributions were as small as $10. “People care about the quality of life in Boca Grande,” says Nichols. “They love it and want to keep it the way it is.”

“It was just phenomenal,” says Jag Grewal of Ian Black Real Estate, who represented the seller. “They were having bake sales, for goodness’ sake. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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