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John Travolta Opposes Jumbolair Expansion!

Even Ocala’s most famous resident, John Travolta, a lifelong pilot himself, agrees that the Jumbolair expansion is not in the public interest.  John Travolta started taking flying lessons at age 15 and has been a licensed pilot since he was 22 years old.  It’s that lifelong love of aviation that brought him to Ocala in early 2000 with the decision to build a home in Jumbolair.

Truett Gardner, Mr. Travolta’s legal counsel, spoke to John recently and he asked us to share this message.  “John loves Marion County, the peaceful nature of Jumbolair, and he is completely united with the opponents of Mr. Bull’s comp plan and rezoning requests.”

Here are excerpts from the Opposition Letter filed on behalf of Mr. Travolta:

“On behalf of our client and longtime resident of Jumbolair Aviation Estates, John Travolta, and the Co-Trustees Ronald Zupancic and Michael J. McDermott, Esq. of the Hawker Investment Trust, dated March 1, 1998, Gardner Brewer Hudson (GBH) is providing the following reasons why the future land use map amendment and rezoning applications filed by Robert Bull for Jumbolair Aviation Estates (the “Property”) should be summarily denied.”

“Robert Bull’s proposed comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning demonstrate the antithesis of the protections established by the Supreme Court which have permeated throughout the Country, throughout Florida, and are recognized in Marion County. Bull’s proposals instead serve to threaten the public’s health, safety, and welfare by densifying property in a rural area close to a large private runway and by endangering the safety of residents that live in proximity to his property.”

“Compared to the existing low-density neighborhoods surrounding the area, Bull’s proposals would irrevocably alter the complexion of north central Marion County from a quiet, rural farmland community to a bustling airfield surrounded by dense residential development and commercial development. Bull’s applications promote the creation of a disproportionate island of increased density and air traffic that is disconnected and isolated from the true urban fabric of Marion County located to the south of the subject Property.”

“If approved, the development would pose significant harm to our client and the residents of Marion County for the following reasons: The Large-Scale Future Land Use Map Series amendment for 358.62 acres is socially and fundamentally incompatible with the Marion County Comprehensive Plan as it fails to discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl, does not satisfy the original intent of the Urban Growth Boundary, and is an inherent danger to Rural Neighborhoods.”

“The proposal fails to adhere to the goals, strategies and policies promulgated under the Comprehensive Plan. Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan provides its roadmap to balance appropriate development with existing patterns, availability of infrastructure, and overall compatibility. Bull’s proposals are not consistent with existing development patterns, as necessary infrastructure is not even contemplated and, most glaringly, the proposals could not be more incompatible with the fabric of the surrounding area.”

“In keeping with the well-founded precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company, amendments to valid Comprehensive Plans and zoning regulations should be rejected when they jeopardize the public’s health, safety, and welfare.”

“The above-referenced failures in Bull’s proposals demonstrate a blatant lack of interest in preserving the rural nature of the area and Jumbolair’s unique history. Accordingly, and as a consequence of the proposals’ inconsistencies with the Comprehensive Plan, Bull’s FLUMS amendment and companion rezoning should be rejected and denied.”

 

February 9, 2024

T. Truett Gardner, Esq.

Addie K. Clark, P.E.

Gardner Brewer Hudson

Travolta Files Legal Complaint Against Jumbolair Development!

In January, Hawker Investment Trust, John Travolta’s entity, filed a lawsuit against Jumbolair Aviation Estates Owners Association and Jumbolair Development, LLC, owned by Robert and Debra Bull, seeking a judgement for specific performance. 

Hawker Investment Trust owns a 19+ acre parcel in the Jumbolair community where Mr. Travolta lives and keeps his aircraft.

Excerpts from the Legal Complaint Letter

“This law firm, along with McDermott & Thacker, P.A., represents Ellen Bannon and Margaret Rau, as Trustees of the Hawker Investment Trust, dated March 1, 1988 (“Hawker Investment Trust”), and John Travolta (“Mr. Travolta”) (collectively, the “Travolta Parties”).”

“As you know, the Travolta Parties have been residents of Jumbolair Aviation Estates since 2001. For over twenty years, the Travolta Parties have enjoyed the quiet and peaceful use and enjoyment of the Jumbolair Aviation Estates. Unfortunately, since Mr. and Mrs. Bull purchased the Jumbolair Aviation Estates in 2021, the Travolta Parties’ experience has been anything but.”

“Specifically, Mr. Travolta’s guests have relayed to him that Mr. Bull has been discourteous to them in their limited dealings with him. Consistently, the Travolta Parties’ employees/ contractors have complained to him that Mr. Bull is very rude in his interactions with them.”

“Not long ago, the Travolta Parties engaged electricians to change out some lights on the PAPIs. While doing their job, they were approached by Mr. Bull who disparaged them and their ability to do their work to the point where they reported to us that they were “shook up” and would probably not return if asked. Further, the Travolta Parties’ pilot (Eclipse) advised him that not long ago, upon departing, while being handled by the Jacksonville controller, Mr. Bull requested him to identify his passengers. The pilot refused to do so.” 

“This inappropriate behavior by Mr. Bull has led to an invasion of the Travolta Parties’ privacy and has caused much embarrassment to Mr. Travolta.”

“Mr. Bull’s actions recently culminated in his unauthorized intrusion onto Mr. Travolta’s property on July 12, 2023, in which he both refused to leave and blockaded the egress to the Jett Bleu Estates with his vehicles, construction equipment and his helicopter. This entire “self-help” enforcement incident is on video which captured the derogatory, insulting, and threatening manner, including name calling in which Mr. Bull tried to intimidate Mr. Ronnie Zupancic, Mr. Travolta’s property manager, into compliance with what he contended was an enforceable restriction. It ended when Mr. Bull was removed from the Jett Bleu Estates by police under threat of being arrested for trespassing.”

“The Travolta Parties also have a video of Mr. Bull taken after he was removed from the Jett Bleu Estates, threatening Mr. Zupancic with trespass if he attempted to access the common area property on the west side of the runway (where the PAPI lights are located), which area was dedicated per plat to the residents of Jumbolair. Not wanting to let things cool off, the following day, Mr. Bull flew his Blackhawk military helicopter in front of the Jett Bleu Estates and hovered/landed for sufficient time in an effort to intimidate the occupants. Talk of Mr. Bull’s helicopter possessing operational Class V weapons was soon circulating among the staff. Regardless of whether that is true, the message sent was eminently clear. Again, this was captured on video. Taxiways are for transit, not intimidation. Since that time, the Travolta Parties have videotaped Mr. Bull doing “aerial reconnaissance” of the Jett Bleu Estates, with his other helicopter, ostensibly in an effort to document non-existing deed restriction violations incapable of being observed at ground level.”

“Ultimately, Mr. Bull has created an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and uncertainty among the Travolta Parties. The Jumbolair Parties, through Mr. and Mrs. Bull, have disregarded their preexisting obligations to the Travolta Parties and have actively impeded the Travolta Parties from enjoying the rights and privacy the Travolta Parties have been accustomed to, and have a right to, at the Jumbolair Aviation Estates during the last twenty plus years. It is as if Mr. Bull is committed to a campaign to drive Mr. Travolta out of the neighborhood with his continual harassment and intimidation tactics.”

 

September 15, 2023

William J. Schifino Jr., Esq.

Gunster, Yoakley &Stewart, P.A.

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.

Horse Farms Forever, Inc.® Opposes Jumbolair Expansion

Horse Farms Forever, Inc.® Opposes Jumbolair Expansion

Position Statement

Horse Farms Forever, Inc. opposes the Robert Bull revised applications to change the land use and zoning for the Jumbolair parcels. The proposed changes are not in the public interest, not compatible with the surrounding properties and inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  The land use change should be denied. The zoning change should be denied.

Planned Unit Development (P.U.D.) Concept Plan for Jumbolair.

The Revised Applications

Robert Bull proposes creating Jumbolair Aviation & Equestrian Estates as a fly-in community with a maximum of 240 new dwelling units, a 150% increase over the 94 dwelling units allowed with the current land use. The demand for this increased density is not driven by market demand, rather it is reliant on access to the runway for flight operations. There are already thousands of vacant parcels in and around the Jumbolair community. Marion County has an inventory of 120,000 vacant parcels that are vested for residential development.

Without the flight operations, there is no demand for the residential density.

And to support the flight operations, Jumbolair is proposing to increase the number of aircraft hangars with access to the runway to nearly 250. These hangars will accommodate 300+ aircraft. The increase in flight operations from 300+ aircraft to create demand for residential dwellings will subject the surrounding rural landowners and horse farms to an invasion of noise that is unprecedented. Just imagine hundreds of daily flight operations involving circling, low flying aircraft seven days a week at all hours of the day and night, with no restrictions.

 

With flight operations, the neighbors will be subjected to the equivalent of a never-ending air raid.

The Farmland Preservation Area

The 450-acre Jumbolair property straddles the boundaries of the Urban Growth Boundary and the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) with about 20% of the acreage located in the FPA. The revised Jumbolair site plan proposes 1-acre lots that abut the FPA. This is contrary to Comprehensive Plan Policy 2.1.17 which states: “Where Low Residential abuts the Farmland Preservation Area or other Rural Area, hamlet, clustered or other development methods to preserve large tracts of open space are encouraged.”

Marion County’s Land Development Code (LDC) states that aircraft hangars are only permitted in approved fly-in communities or with a Special Use Permit. The Jumbolair revised application proposes designating the entire 450-acres to be a fly-in community, including the parcels located in the Farmland Preservation Area.  Jumbolair proposes tightly clustering 90 of the proposed 203 aircraft hangars on parcels located inside the FPA. This proposal is not consistent with Comprehensive Plan Policy 3.3.1, which requires that all applications for Zoning change and Special Use Permits “be consistent with and preserve, protect and support and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the Farmland Preservation Area.” 

James Garemore, who built the original grass runway. The five small Quonset hut style hangars can be seen in the background.

The paved runway is reportedly the largest licensed private runway in North America.

The Airport

In 1980, James Garemore built the original Greystone grass runway that runs east/west. Also in 1980, Arthur Jones of Nautilus exercise equipment fame purchased a homestead and added another 450 acres that abutted the Greystone runway. In 1984, Mr. Jones completed the paved Jumbolair runway which runs north/south for his private use. It is reportedly the largest, licensed, private runway in North America. In 1989 as part of a divorce proceeding, Terri Jones took control of the Jumbolair property, helped develop the aviation community, operated a banquet hall, and a bed-and-breakfast.

In 2000, Jumbolair Aviation Estates was created as a fly-in community by dividing 190-acres on the east side into a hamlet of 38 parcels. In 2008, actor John Travolta purchased one of the Jumbolair Aviation Estate lots. Even with that publicity, today 23 of those parcels are still vacant. The Jumbolair Aviation Estates community is separate from the Jumbolair Aviation & Equestrian Estates project and is not included in these applications. In 2013, Ms. Jones sold the Jumbolair property to a businessman, who in 2021 sold it to Robert Bull and affiliated entities. This purchase by Mr. Bull included 21 of those vacant parcels located in the Jumbolair Aviation Estates.

The Owners

Robert and Debra Bull controlled companies own the multiple parcels that total 450-acres and are the subject of these applications. Mr. and Mrs. Bull created the Bull Family Foundation and the American Honor Foundation, both nonprofit 501C3 corporations. The Bull family makes gifts to the Bull Family Foundation. The Bull Family Foundation makes gifts to the American Honor Foundation. The American Honor Foundation owns and operates the aircraft. As a side note, neither foundation is registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charity.

The American Honor Foundation states, “Our mission is to inspire and educate future generations about American history, and the contributions of our veterans, by collecting, restoring, and preserving historical American artifacts. We aim to provide students with a unique educational opportunity to learn about war history and the importance of the blue-collar trades that helped build this country.” While the intent of the mission is praiseworthy, the flight operations to accomplish it at the subject property are inappropriate. Here’s why. 

The Aircraft

The American Honor Foundation website lists the collection of 14 vintage military aircraft to be based and operated out of the 5 existing hangars. These World War II and Vietnam-era military aircraft were designed to be used in warfare and operated out of military bases. They are some of the loudest aircraft ever produced.  The noise levels generated by these aircraft will disrupt all facets of an otherwise rural lifestyle.

Just imagine the current activity from 5 hangars multiplied by 40 times more hangars!

If Jumbolair operates like other private fly-in communities, most of the flight operations will be local circling flights within 5 miles of the airport. For the property owners within a 5-mile radius of Jumbolair, the noise from the hundreds of daily operations of vintage aircraft will greatly impact and diminish their quality of life and the value of their property.

In addition, the aircraft will require intense commercial fuel and maintenance activities. The proposed zoning application makes no provision to regulate these activities, even though the entire project is inside the Primary Springs Protection Zone.

Any proposed increase in the number of aircraft hangars and resulting flight operations should require a Special Use Permit for each and every hangar. While the County can’t regulate an aircraft once it is airborne, it can control the number of hangars and flight operations. With a Special Use Permit, the County has the power to limit the number of aircraft, the number of flight operations, the days and hours of operations, and the type of aircraft operated. This is substantiated by Policy 7.2.5: Regulation of Airports which states: The Land Development Code shall establish regulation of airports by Special Use Permit or special zoning category to allow placement of appropriate conditions to safeguard public health, welfare, and safety.

The 5 existing hangars were newly built in 2022 by Mr. Bull and allowed without a Special Use Permit as they supposedly replaced 5 small Quonset hut style hangars built by Mr. Garemore in 1980. 

The Hangars

The Jumbolair revised zoning application proposes 198 new aircraft hangars to augment 5 existing hangars for a total of 203 aircraft hangars. In addition, the separate Jumbolair Aviation Estates hamlet, which is deemed a fly-in community, is allowed 38 aircraft hangars. The 5 existing hangars were newly built in 2022 by Mr. Bull and allowed without a Special Use Permit as they supposedly replaced 5 small Quonset hut style hangars built by Mr. Garemore in 1980.  As those original hangars were built before the restriction on aviation hangars was enacted into the LDC, they were deemed a “legal non-conforming” use. The LDC states that a non-conforming use can be maintained but not expanded. With the 5 new hangars, Jumbolair significantly increased the degree of non-conformity, contrary to the LDC. Those new hangars should have each been required to obtain a Special Use Permit. The County should halt their use and require they each apply for a Special Use Permit as per the LDC.

All combined, the Jumbolair complex could total almost 250 hangars. As many of these hangars are large enough to accommodate multiple aircraft, the airport could be a base for over 300 aircraft. As a point of reference, the Ocala International Airport has 146 aircraft hangars and 200 based aircraft. With the number of aircraft and average flight operations, this would rank the private Jumbolair airport as one of the 100 busiest general aviation airports in the United States with hundreds of flight operations per day.

The Rural Area and Horse Farms

The existing runway is in a rural area and is a non-conforming use. It would never be allowed today. Any increase in the intensity of its use is contrary to the LDC and not in the public interest. The expansion of the existing Jumbolair fly-in community beyond the current size is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and should be denied. The Transportation Element Objective 7.2: Consistency with the Comprehensive Plan states: Improvements to existing airports and new sites shall be consistent with the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Future Land Use, Conservation, and Transportation Elements of this Plan.

As an example of a violation of the Comprehensive Plan, Policy 2.1.13: Protection of Rural Neighborhoods states: Marion County shall recognize “rural neighborhoods” that occur within or outside of the UGB deserve special protection from the intrusion of urban uses, densities, and intensities where new development occurs within the immediate vicinity.

Attend the Hearing

Jumbolair Equestrian & Aviation Estates’ application to change the land use will be heard at a public hearing on February 20th, 2pm, at the McPherson Complex. We urge you to show up along with us and exercise your right to public comment. Please also reach out to your County Commissioners to thank them for their longstanding support for farmland preservation and ask them to continue to uphold the Comprehensive Plan’s protections for the Farmland Preservation Area. Your voice matters and it makes a difference.

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It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire 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, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

The Board of Directors of Horse Farms Forever® is excited to announce the promotion of Sara Powell-Fennessy to Executive Director of the organization, effective January 1, 2024

The Board of Directors of Horse Farms Forever® is excited to announce the promotion of Sara Powell-Fennessy to Executive Director of the organization, effective January 1, 2024

Sara and her young American Warmblood mare “Ever After”

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Gifford Photography

“On behalf of the Horse Farms Forever Board of Directors, I am excited to announce the promotion of Sara Powell-Fennessy to Executive Director of the organization,” said Bernie Little, HFF President. “Sara brings energy and enthusiasm for the organization’s mission that assures its future success. Sara is a powerful voice for protecting and preserving the farmland that is foundational to the equestrian industry in Marion County. Sara serves as a role model for others seeking to impact their communities. On a personal level, people like Sara give me such great confidence in the future of this community.”

Sara grew up in an equine-centric household. A lifelong horse show and racing enthusiast, she devoted much of her time as a hunter-jumper competitor while attending school in Lexington, Kentucky. During her almost 12 years in Marion County, Florida, she has devoted herself to a career of outreach, communication, management, and promotion in the local community and equine industry. Today, Sara owns and rides hunter jumpers.

“My parents had me in the saddle before I could even walk,” Sara noted. “My most valuable life lessons came from my time on the back of a horse. I am a firm believer that horses instill a sense of responsibility, patience and a work ethic that cannot be replicated, she notes.”

A Generational Legacy

A fifth-generation horsewoman, Sara has a lifelong family history focused primarily on the Thoroughbred and show-horse sectors. Her parents and grandparents owned and trained racehorses and Saddlebreds. Sara’s grandfather was a successful jockey on the West Coast, and her father is a lifelong member of the Thoroughbred world and an industry executive.

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Gifford Photography

An honor’s graduate from the College of Central Florida, Sara’s educational background is in Paralegal studies.

“My work with Horse Farms Forever over the past 5 years has been deeply fulfilling on so many levels,” she explained. “Like so many others here in Marion County, the horse industry is my family’s livelihood and legacy. Advocating for the very thing that makes Ocala/Marion County so unique and special means everything to me.”

“I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to serve alongside the accomplished staff and dedicated Board of Directors as we work to preserve our global brand as Horse Capital of the World®. I am overflowing with excitement for what lies ahead on the horizon for this incredible organization,” Sara concluded.

Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Gifford Photography

Wild Florida Celebrated at 2023 Conservation Summit

Wild Florida Celebrated at 2023 Conservation Summit

Keynote speaker Carlton Ward, Jr. inspired us with his stunning photography and film of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. 

Record Turnout

On Thursday, November 16th, a large and enthusiastic crowd turned out to hear Path of the Panther creator, Carlton Ward, Jr. speak and learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor, despite the torrential rains and wind that night. It was clear that our goal to raise awareness for the Corridor and inspire the community to think about conservation was accomplished. Over 500 people filled the auditorium at Ocala Breeder’s Sales, who have so graciously hosted the Conservation Summit free of charge for the third year in a row.

The Conservation Summit has become a major fixture on the calendar, and the passion for conservation and land stewardship in that packed auditorium was absolutely palpable, and not just from farm and land owners. The speakers were riveting, the refreshments excellent and the whole presentation so very professionally and seamlessly choreographed. I know how much work and thought had gone into planning and executing the evening, and I felt proud to be a small part of this fine movement.

Nick de Meric

HFF Founder and Board Member, de Meric Thoroughbred Sales

HFF Director of Conservation Strategies Busy Shires shared a recap of HFF’s accomplishments in protecting the Farmland Preservation Area since its inception 5 years ago.

 

Powerhouse Presentations

Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, began the Program by sharing how the Florida Wildlife Corridor came to be. Dimmitt is a close colleague of Carlton Ward, Jr., and together with him and another colleague, Joe Guthrie, they embarked on a 1000 mile journey in 100 days in 2012 to raise awareness about this connected landscape. They started in the Everglades and ended in the Okefenokee Swamp across the Florida/Georgia border. That resulted in their first documentary film, Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. Another 1000-mile trek began in the Everglades Headwaters and stretched west along the Big Bend coast and the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Florida/Alabama border. That journey led to a documentary known as The Forgotten Coast. As awareness of the Corridor grew, they started routing their expeditions to more densely populated edge areas experiencing rapid growth with an urgent need to accelerate the pace of conservation, most recently following the journey of 3 military veterans from Ocala to Osceola National Forests. The Foundation just previewed that short film, called O2O: Path to Connection, which will premiere at Camp Blanding in February. These films have been punctuation marks that are extremely effective in telling the story of the Corridor. 

We stand at the crossroads of preservation and progress, witnessing firsthand how this remarkable Corridor breathes life into our communities and fuels the spirit of exploration. It’s not just a space on the map; it’s a living testament to the resilience of nature and the legacy we craft for generations to come.
Mallory Lykes Dimmitt

CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

“Standing here today, I have renewed hope that the story of the Florida panther rising up out of South Florida swamps will continue inspiring a movement to save the Florida Wildlife Corridor and keep the Everglades connected to the rest of America.”
Carlton Ward, Jr.

Path of the Panther

Dimmitt introduced Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Explorer, photographer and film maker. Ward was quick to point out some little known facts about what the Florida Wildlife Corridor protects, such as cattle ranches which still take up 1/6 of Florida’s land mass, black bears, corals in the Florida Keys, freshwater springs, longleaf pine forests and of course, the rare Florida Panther. He then took us on a journey through his career as an explorer and the ups and downs of capturing images of the elusive panther using camera traps.

His family owns a ranch in the Peace River Valley. Several of his cousins are full-time cowboys in the Greater Everglades. His great-grandfather was Doyle E. Carlton, the 25th governor of Florida. He’s an eighth generation Floridian.

I started this journey inspired by bears, cowboys and panthers. I enter this phase of the journey motivated by my children. The bears and panthers show us what we need to do to save Florida, while giving ranchers and other rural Floridians viable alternatives to development that will otherwise overtake their lands.
Carlton Ward, Jr.

National Geographic Explorer, photographer, film maker, Wildpath

Wildpath

Ward’s organization, Wildpath, is pursuing new projects now that the Path of the Panther book and movie are enjoying widespread acclaim and success. With storytelling and conservation grants from National Geographic, they are starting a new project called Gulf of Mexico: Paths to Protection. The project began working with global ocean ambassador Dr Sylvia Earle, who was the first person to scuba dive for science in the Gulf of Mexico more than 70 years ago. This initial focus is celebrating the seagrass beds of what Sylvia calls The Wilderness Coast – wrapping from north of Clearwater to Tallahassee. From the seagrasses, the project will follow the movements wildlife such as five species of sea turtles that rely on Wilderness Coast Estuaries, through the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond.

Back on land, Wildpath is starting a new project advocating for the protection of large-scale wildlife corridors surrounding military bases throughout America. They are working with the Department of Defense, USDA, and US Dept of the Interior.

And of course, they continue to deepen the story telling about the Florida Wildlife Corridor by sending photographers to all regions of the Corridor to document the wildlife. This is being compiled into a story map which you can view in real time on wildpath.com.

 

Traci Deen from Conservation Florida shared the news about conservation easements underway in Marion County.

Conservation Florida

Ward introduced the final speaker, Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida. Deen’s organization saves land by facilitating, accepting or purchasing donations of land conservation easements and serving as a statewide conservation partner to other organizations. As a partner in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, they are actively using some of the $2billion in state funding allocated for the corridor to purchase easements on private working lands that enable the owners to continue working the land while at the same time keeping it available for wildlife habitat.

About 43% of Marion County’s land mass is included in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Ocala National Forest (ONF), at over 430,000 acres, is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle. The goal is to connect additional conservation lands such as the ONF, the Cross Florida Greenway, Rainbow Springs State Park, and Silver Springs State Park by protecting private land with conservation easements.

A small portion of the Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) in northwest Marion County is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The FPA section of the corridor will help connect Paynes Prairie State Preserve to the Goethe State Forest.

From Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oaks Grow

The Acorn Award, sponsored by Horse Farms Forever, is given annually to a Marion County landowner who has exemplified what it means to protect and honor the open spaces and beautiful places that make Ocala/Marion County unique. This year, we were honored to present the Award to Shirley and John Rudnianyn, owners of Blitch Plantation and one of the largest landowners in the County. Blitch Plantation is a 4,500 acre farm with timber, cattle and wildlife habitat. The Rudnianyns recently purchased approximately 18,000 acres in the Fort McCoy area and have assembled a team of experts including foresters, soil and wetland scientists and several conservation organizations to help restore the tract for sustainable timber, cattle grazing, and hunting. This tract is an important connector between the Ocala National Forest and the Osceola National Forest.

Carlton Ward, Jr. signed books before and after the Program.

Special Moments

The evening’s events began with a Path of the Panther book signing while guests enjoyed a cheerful reception, refreshments, and toured the hospitality booths of Sponsors. Rubbish the Raccoon, Marion County’s rap-singing mascot for it’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Campaign was a favorite photo opportunity. Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses once again came as our special guests to let everyone meet one of their sweet miniature horses and learn about their mission to encourage and uplift people in need. The Saint Bernard Foundation honored Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Program with a $10,000 donation presented at the Summit. Horse Farms Forever received a $125,000 bequest from the Cathy D. Perry estate, presented by Cathy’s son, Brandon Perry and his wife, Diannah.

I’ve been coming to OBS since I was 10 years old. It is the Marion County horse industry that has moved me to Ocala several times throughout my life, as an assistant farm manager, large animal veterinary technician and as a Thoroughbred farm owner. It was so surreal to say the least to present this check in honor of Brandon’s moms legacy last night to Horse Farms Forever to help preserve and protect the horse country that I love, at the place that brought me to Ocala so many years ago.

Diannah Perry

Philanthropist, Realtor and Founding Member of Horse Farms Forever

HFF Staff: Michelle Grald, Sara Fennessy and Busy Shires with Mallory Lykes Dimmit of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Explorer and author of Path of the Panther, Bernie Little.

A Promising Partnership

Conservation Florida and the Florida Wildlife Corridor are valuable partners as we continue the conversation about conservation in Marion County, particularly in the area of conservation easements, which are the only way to permanently and irrevocably preserve tracts of land that are privately owned.

GALLERY

Photos by Sean Dowie Photography

The rainy evening didn’t put a damper on the enthusiasm from the audience.

Rubbish the raccoon, the mascot for Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Clean Up Campaign kicked off the program and showed us some moves.

Mary Jane Hunt (far right) from the Saint Bernard Foundation presented a check for $10,000 to Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Litter Campaign. She is shown here with County Administrator Mounir Bouyones, Mark Johnson, Rubbish, Commissioner Michelle Stone and Commissioner Craig Curry.

Nate and Dasha Chambers with Matt Marcin of J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

Mallory Lykes Dimmitt with Danna Bramlett and Adrienne Lewis of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

HFF Board Member Paul Kaplan with Commissioner Michelle Stone and her husband, Charlie Stone.

HFF Board Members: George Isaacs, Paul Kaplan, Elma Garcia Cannavino, and Bernie Little along with Attorney Matt Brockway from Icard Merrill.

Bridlewood Farm’s General Manager, George Isaacs, who is an HFF Board Member and is also the current president of the FTBOA, along with HFF Director of Conservation Strategies, Busy Shires.

Ocala Horse Properties’ Principals, Chris and Rob Desino, who are Founders of Horse Farms Forever. Rob currently serves as the Board Vice President.

Amy Mangan, Executive Director of AdventHealth Ocala Foundation, HFF’s Sara Fennessy and Sheriff Billy Woods

Dilan Bower-Desino, Rob Desino, Chris Desino, Nancy DeCavaignac, Matt Varney and the ever-present Rubbish the Raccoon.

So many new faces!

This young man bravely marched up to the microphone to have a conversation about conservation with Carlton.

Rubbish was everyone’s favorite photo buddy. Here he is with Tammy Dowie

Commissioner Michelle Stone with Rubbish.

Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, Executive Director of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses was on site to introduce everyone to one of their therapy horses and tell the story of their mission to bring big hope to people through their tiny horses.

HFF Board President, Bernie Little.

Mireille Doffegnies, BEMER Distributor & Team Manager

Bernie Little, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, Sam Smidt, and Billy Van Pelt of the American Farmland Trust

The book signings were a big hit.

Mark Emery with Conservation Florida’s Traci Deen and John and Shirley Rudnianyn.

Thank you, Sponsors!

For the fourth year in a row, Brook Ledge Horse Transportation has delivered us as our Title Sponsor. We are so thankful for Brook Ledge and the support of close to sixty other businesses, individuals and nonprofits that stepped up to sponsor the 2023 Conservation Summit.

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Bronze

Media Partners

 

 

 

For an official press release, images and press passes, go here.

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.

2023 Conservation Summit Sponsor Spotlight: Bronze Level Sponsors

2023 Conservation Summit Sponsor Spotlight: Bronze Level Sponsors

Horse Farms Forever is immensely grateful for the unwavering support and commitment of our 2023 Conservation Summit sponsors. Their partnership enables us to bring together experts and advocates to address the work being done to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the Farmland Preservation Area.Leading up to the Summit, we will be featuring all of our Summit sponsors, and today, we extend our heartfelt appreciation to these Bronze Level Sponsors for their invaluable contributions to the success of the 2023 Conservation Summit!

horse-farms-forever-farmland-preservation-area-ocala-marion-county

2023 Conservation Summit Bronze Sponsors

*Sponsors as of November 6th, 2023.

As a token of appreciation for your unwavering support for preserving horse farms, Open Range Hay is offering all of our esteemed members an exclusive 10% discount on all their high-quality products.

There are still 2023 Conservation Summit Sponsorship Opportunities Available!