The Lasting Legacy of the Drake Ranch

The Lasting Legacy of the Drake Ranch

The Drake Ranch is a historic ranch that has been passed down through four generations of the Drake family. The Drakes are one of the first pioneering families to settle in Florida in the 1870s. Over 125 years later, they are also one of the first families to protect their land with a conservation easement in Marion County.

James Drake, the patriarch of the Drake family, served as President of the Gulf Railroad Company and built the first railroad line going south of Jacksonville to Eustis, FL in 1871.

Several members of the Drake family settled in the historic district of Ocala and also helped shape Florida’s history as accomplished architects and builders, pioneers of the fern industry, and as community leaders in the real estate, construction, banking, business, and non-profit community.

The third generation of the Drakes in Florida, Trusten P. Drake, Jr., built a large cattle ranch and timber business that encompassed over 22,000 acres. Over the years, parcels of the ranch were placed in a conservation easement or sold to neighboring families, but the Drakes retained ownership of a large portion of the ranch.

Photo Credit: Mark Emery

The fourth generation of the Drake family owns and manages the historic Drake Ranch as a partnership. The legacy of two brothers, Trusty and K have now passed the Drake Ranch to their six children. Trusten (Trusty) Polk Drake, III and his wife Charline had three children, Laura Drake McDonald, Lisa Drake Lancaster, & Robert Polk Drake. George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. and his first wife Martha Durlene had three children, Ann Louise Drake, George MacKay Drake, Jr., & Trusten Holland Drake.

Hover over the photos & use the arrows to click through to view photos from the Drake Ranch.

Photos Courtesy of: Mark Emery

The Drake Ranch now has one of the largest conservation easements of any private land in Marion County. In 2002, two brothers with a deep love of Florida’s wilderness and wildlife, Trusten (Trusty) P. Drake, III & George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. preserved 5,800 acres of the ranch by placing it in a conservation easement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District where its natural lands would never be developed.

Protecting the legacy of the Drake Ranch was a decision made by the Drake brothers, and whole heartedly embraced by the large extended Drake family who take great pride in knowing that their land will forever be protected. The Drakes hold a deep-rooted love for the land and their commitment to protecting it’s natural beauty has been handed down through the generations.

“The family has a long tradition of responsible stewardship of the land,” said Ann Louise Drake. “We all grew up at the ranch and it’s just such a big part of our family.”

The ranch holds significant conservation value as it protects 6.5 miles on the east side of the scenic Withlacoochee River and is part of the Gum Slough project area that encompasses 23,777 acres. Pristine uplands and primeval wetlands help protect the water quality of the river and provide for wildlife habitat.

Florida Wildife Corridor Includes Drake Ranch

The ranch is also a critical connection in the statewide Florida Wildlife Corridor as it helps connect nearby conservation lands including the Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve, Ross Prairie Wildlife Management Area, and the Goethe State Forest.

The Corridor comprises nearly 18 million acres of contiguous wilderness and privately owned working lands crucial to the survival of many of Florida’s species, including the Florida panther. One of the goals of the Corridor is to protect privately owned ranching and fishing lands with conservation easements and since these lands stay in private ownership, they remain in the family and also support large sectors of Florida’s economy.

For the Drake family, the protection of the Drake Ranch was about much more than protecting the unique land and wilderness areas, it was also about protecting a lasting family legacy and a piece of Florida’s history.
Horse Farms Forever thanks the Drake Family for their stewardship and conservation of the Drake Ranch, one of the irreplaceable crown jewels in Marion County. 
The mission of Horse Farms Forever is to inspire the conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend. 
Horse Farms Forever also helps connect landowners, that are interested in conserving their land, with one of our partner conservation organizations. 

Conserving land is primarily about preventing it from being subdivided. This is accomplished with a conservation easement, which protects natural and agricultural values while keeping land in private ownership. Landowners that protect their land with a conservation easement, may also qualify for powerful financial and tax incentives.

From L to R: Trusten (Trusty) Polk Drake, III and George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. in the early days of Drake Construction Co. Together, they built several historic and significant buildings for the City of Ocala, (including Ocala City Hall), the College of Central Florida, and the University of Florida.

Trusten Holland Drake & his two sons, Kendall and Dylan Drake, continue the family legacy of building in Central Florida as the Owners of Drake Construction Services, Inc.

The first families to settle in the area were the Drakes and the MacKays in the 1870s. In 1871, James E. Drake, as President of the Gulf Railroad Company, built the first railroad line going south of Jacksonville to Eustis, Florida. George MacKay, Trusten Holland Drake’s Great Grandfather, was an early 1900’s architect and builder, who built several historic landmarks in Ocala including the original Marion County Courthouse.

K Drake, in front of his father’s bulldozer which cleared a lot of the ranch pre-1950. This picture was taken after K restored the tractor around 1990.

From L to R: K and Trusty with their horse Ace. Trusty is on the right holding the lead rope.

L to R: K and Trusty with a wild turkey at the Drake Ranch.

K Drake at home surrounded by some of his favorite flowers, Azaleas and Coral honeysuckle.

Trusty at home on the way to one of his children’s weddings in front of his house with his pet hogs.

Gaiter, Florida is a pioneer town no longer exists, but the Drake family has maintained the old wooden building that was once used as the Post Office for Gaiter as a piece of Florida’s history. The map from the early 1900’s shows the location of Gaiter along the Withlacoochee River.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

Applications Still Accepted for Land Development Regulation Commission

Applications Still Accepted for Land Development Regulation Commission

Marion County is still accepting applications for the vacancy on the Land Development Regulation Commission (LDRC) until Monday, November 27 at 5:00 PM. The County Commission will make the appointment at the regularly scheduled Commission meeting on Tuesday, December 19.

While the website with the application link has not been updated yet, the County staff confirmed that the vacancy is still open.

In addition, the County accepts applications for all Advisory Boards at any time of the year, even if there is not a vacancy for an Advisory Board. The County holds submitted applications for 365 days and, if there is a vacancy, the County reaches out to applicants when vacancies occur to make sure they are still interested in serving on the board.

Residents who want to learn about Marion County’s citizen advisory boards may contact the commission office at 352-438-2323 for more information.

Land Development Regulation Commission (1 Full Member – Unexpired Term 11/2024)

Members shall be qualified electors in Marion County, and should be representative of the technical fields related to land development regulations, including the ability to evaluate & recommend specific regulatory standards & criteria. Preferably familiar with the areas of planning, environmental science, agriculture and the development industry.

John and Shirley Rudnianyn Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

John and Shirley Rudnianyn Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

Horse Farms Forever® is honored to announce John and Shirley Rudnianyn, as the recipients of the 2023 Acorn Conservation Award, which will be presented at the upcoming Conservation Summit on November 16th at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.

The Acorn Conservation Award is given to an individual or family who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of land and horse farms in Marion County.

Horse Farms Forever chose John and Shirley as this year’s honorees because of their lifelong love and stewardship of land in Marion County. Their homestead is located at Blitch Plantation, a 4,500-acre farm utilized for timber, cattle, and wildlife.

John and Shirley are deeply connected to their natural surroundings and are dedicated to preserving the beauty and integrity of the land. Visitors who journey through Blitch Plantation often leave with a renewed connection to the environment and a profound understanding of the need for conservation. Their hands-on approach includes reforestation, wildlife habitat restoration, and hosting educational programs aimed at helping others and the next generation of environmental advocates.

They were recently involved in the acquisition of approximately 18,000 acres in the Fort McCoy area and have assembled a team of land specialists to assist in the restoration of the Ft McCoy properties which include foresters, soil and wetland scientists, the Saint Johns River Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ducks Unlimited, and Quail Forever. Management plans include timber, cattle, and variety land enhancements to benefit wildlife which will include sustainable harvesting opportunities for hunters and their families.

“The Ft McCoy properties are really cool. We’ve admired them for over 50 years,” said John. “There is so much wildlife with nearly every major Florida species represented except Florida panthers!”

The Ft McCoy Forest properties are key parcels of land in the Florida Wildlife Corridor which could help connect the Ocala National Forest to Paynes Prairie State Preserve and the Osceola National Forest. John is currently working to try to conserve a large portion of the Ft McCoy properties through several Florida conservation programs

John was also instrumental in protecting the 465-acre Silver Springs Sandhill near Silver Springs State Park, as his family along with the Albright family were landowners of the property. Jim Couillard on behalf of Marion County and Conservation Florida managed a public/private partnership to protect the property in 2017.

“This was the last, large undeveloped property located in Silver Springs and it was entitled for over 1,800 homes. The landowners felt the benefit to Silver Springs and the recreational opportunities for Marion County residents far outweighed the allure of developing homes less than a mile from the main spring,” said John in a Conservation Florida press release.

While John, Shirley, and their family are large landowners in Marion County, they see themselves as land stewards. “In the scheme of things, we’re only here for a short period of time,” he said. “Both Shirley and I love the land and the opportunity to share it with others.”

John and Shirley’s influence reaches far and wide, as they advocate for responsible land management, sustainable practices, and the protection of natural resources. For the Rudnianyn family, working the land is a family tradition, which includes three sons, who are all deeply involved with the family land business as either real estate investment managers, brokers, contractors, or developers.

Please join us in honoring John and Shirley Rudnianyn with the 2023 Acorn Conservation Award.

About John Rudnianyn

John’s parents were Ukrainian immigrants and he grew up on a chicken farm in Summerfield. John attended Lake Weir High School, College of Central Florida, Florida State University, and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Real Estate and Urban Planning. One of his first jobs was working on a muck farm. This experience of “working the land” set the seeds for a lifelong love of owning land.

He is a Certified Commercial Investment Member, Accredited Land Consultant, and owns International Property Services. John has structured virtually every type of real estate transaction conceivable in his 55-year career. He specializes in land acquisition, entitlement, marketing and development and has worked with thousands of properties including many within the Farmland Preservation area.

Photos courtesy of Sean M. Dowie

Save the Dates: 10/26 and 10/27 for Two Events about the County’s Transfer of Development Rights Program

Save the Dates: 10/26 and 10/27 for Two Events about the County’s Transfer of Development Rights Program

Join Horse Farms Forever for two events in October to discuss how Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program can help protect the Farmland Preservation Area and other rural lands in the County. 

TDR Roundtable, Phase 2

Thursday, October 26th from 10AM to 12PM

Auditorium at the S.E. Livestock Pavilion

Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program is a key component in protecting the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) and other rural lands. In 2022, Horse Farms Forever hired Rick Pruetz, an FAICP professional planner and nationally known expert on TDR programs to evaluate the TDR program to determine why the program is underutilized. Rick compiled his research into a Draft Findings Report, which will be presented at the October 26th TDR Roundtable.

The Roundtable will be facilitated by Horse Farms Forever Founder Member Elisabeth Brinton, who is a former Corporate Vice President of Sustainability at Microsoft, and also owns a horse farm in the FPA.

The first TDR Roundtable was held on April 14th at Golden Ocala with a diverse group of 25 community stakeholders including land use attorneys, engineers, planners as well as Growth Services staff, and elected officials.

RSVP to busy.shires@horsefarmsforever.com and to receive a copy of the Draft Findings Report on Marion County’s TDR Program.

Ocala CEP Friday Talks

Friday, October 27th from 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM

Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership – Upstairs Douglas P. Cone Boardroom

Hear from nationally recognized expert, Rick Pruetz, FAICP and Ray Mazzie, Managing Partner, Southern Waters Capital on Marion County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program and the recent utilization of 72 TDR credits to increase the density of a residential development by 72 units.

Friday Talks, sponsored by TD Bank, features speakers sharing their knowledge on a variety of business education and financial literacy topics. The sessions are held at the CEP in the Douglas P. Cone Boardroom beginning with networking at 8:15am. A light breakfast is served.

RSVP to Andrea@OcalaCEP.com

Membership Roundup

Membership Roundup

We are so thankful for our members and sponsors, new and renewing, who enable us to keep inspiring CONVERSATIONS about CONSERVATION of our precious farmland. Together, we can turn our concerns into smart planning for a future that both grows our economy and protects our horse farms.

New to the Herd

We welcome you!

Alice Sasnett – Friend

Barbara Meister – Friend


Charlotte Weber

Individual Founder – RENEWING

Owner of Live Oak Stud, located just west of Ocala, Florida.


David & Anne Quanbeck

Individual Founder – RENEWING

Owners of Northwood Farm, located in the Farmland Preservation area.

Cone Distributing

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Cone Distributing is a distributor of craft beer, hard seltzer, and other beers and beverages

Tri-Eagle Sales

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Tri-Eagle Sales has been the leading beverage wholesaler in the North and North Central Florida area since 1996

Showcase Properties of Central Florida

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Valerie Dailey specializes in the listing and selling of equine properties, as well as residential, commercial, and agricultural properties in Central Florida.

Neighborhood Storage

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Serving Ocala, Belleview & other areas in Marion County with quality storage space.

UF Health

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Promoting health through outstanding and high-quality patient care in Florida.

Rona & Kent Mitchell

Individual Founder – RENEWING

Owners of Long Creek Farms in Ocala, Florida.

Bill Kearns

Individual Founder – RENEWING

Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

Enjoy championship golf and tennis, a world-class equestrian center, luxury living, and more in this one-of-a-kind, gated community.

World Equestrian Center

Corporate Founder – RENEWING

The largest equestrian complex in the United States, located in Ocala, Florida.

Conservation Summit Sponsor Highlight

The community, like a herd of horses, has come together to show their support, and the herd keeps growing! This year over 40 Sponsors have stepped up to support the Conservation Summit. Their generous support makes this event possible and helps build a broad base of support to help protect Marion County’s high quality of life.

We are honored to have Brook Ledge Horse Transportation as the Title Sponsor for the fourth year in a row

Title Sponsor


Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors


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Special Guests