Over 550 people experienced the Third Annual Conversation Summit held on Monday, November 14, 2022, with 250 attending live and 300 watching the live stream and video replay. The goal of the Summit was to be a catalyst for conversations about transportation and road improvement projects on our horse farms and equine industry.
Photo by Sean Dowie.

Marion County joined together at Ocala Breeder’s Sales for an important Conversation About Conservation on Monday, November 14. The subject at hand was how traffic and transportation will impact conservation and the preservation of our horse farms as growth continues. We were fortunate to have Jared Perdue, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Tracy Straub, Assistant Marion County Administrator available to share detailed information about Florida’s transportation approach and goals, and specific road improvement projects.

Secretary Perdue gave an update on the improvements to I-75 and Northern Turnpike Extension project, which will be revitalized in one to two years, but he also emphasized FDOT’s new emphasis to embrace a community’s unique heritage and culture to protect the very things that make that community unique, while at the same time improving road safety and efficiency.

“I love the idea of protecting horse farms. I love horses and owned them myself,” he said. “I love Marion County and rural Florida. I was born and raised there, so it’s really important to me.”

At the beginning of his talk, Secretary Perdue said that the core mission is to provide safe and efficient transportation for the citizens of Florida, and to support the supply chain of goods and services. This is a challenge as Florida’s population continues to grow. Transportation projects are planned for three-percent annual population growth. In some Florida counties, growth is twenty-percent or more annually and not predicted to slow down. At that level of expansion, it is impossible for transportation systems, which are planned on a 15-year timeline, to keep up. The State must plan strategically to head off potential problems as the future unfolds while keeping an eye on conservation of natural resources and meeting the needs of varied communities.

“This is one of the challenges with transportation is – how do you provide necessary transportation, but still protect and conserve what makes Florida special,” said Secretary Perdue.

Many of our members will remember the proposed Coastal Connector toll road in 2018 and how thankful the community is that this toll road has been officially taken off of the table, but the growth challenges that we face as a community will continue and it will take a cooperative effort from both sides of the table to maintain this balance between growth and conservation.

Administrator Tracy Straub, from Marion County, provided important detail on the major road projects planned or taking place around the County. Her substantive presentation not only showed the plans and timelines, but also explained why these projects were conceived and how they will help alleviate traffic congestion.

We will be taking a deeper dive into the material presented by both Perdue and Straub in a subsequent blog. In the meantime, we encourage you to watch the entire Summit Program online.

On The Northern Turnpike Connector:

“We know we need to do something. We want that something to preserve your farmland, to fit the growth patterns that are occurring. We want that something to continue to provide the needed transportation while embracing and maintaining the character of your community.”

Jared Perdue

Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation

I was asked to talk about what was going on for transportation projects at County Road 318. I want you to know that the County has nothing going on at 318 – nothing. Of course the regular resurfacing and guard rail maintenance is taking place, but the development projects in that area have not completed the studies required as of yet for any further planning.

Tracy Straub

Assistant Administrator, Public Works and Growth Services, Marion County


Jared Perdue, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation, shared his rural Florida roots and love for the land. Photo Sean Dowie.

Tracy Straub, Assistant Administrator Public Works and Growth Services is an Ocala Native and 5th generation Marion County Floridian. She has been a Professional Engineer with the County for 21 years. Photo Sean Dowie.

Secretary Perdue with Marion County Commissioner Michelle Stone. Photo Sean Dowie

“Think of these beautiful, iconic horse pastures as our ocean; and the magnificent live oak trees as our coral reefs,” said HFF President, Bernie Little – reminding us all that we are stewards of an environmental gift here in Marion County that is woven tightly to our culture and identity. Photo Sean Dowie

Director of Conservation Strategies Busy Shires explained the significance of the Horse Farms Forever Amendment to the Marion County Comprehensive Plan, which strengthens the protections for the Farmland Preservation Area. Photo Russell Crowder

The beautiful Acorn Award was presented via Zoom to John and Leslie Malone. This unique award is sculpted in Bronze by Colorado artist, Bryce Pettit. Photo Sean Dowie.

Bridlewood Farm’s General Manager, George Isaacs, accepted the Acorn Conservation Award on behalf of the Malone family, owners of Bridlewood Farm. Photo Sean Dowie

Sponsor Navroz Sanju of HDG Hotels asked Secretary Perdue about the future of self-driving cars and trucks on the interstate highways. Photo Russell Crowder

Sponsor and Director Linda Bammann asked Tracy Straub about the timeline for road improvements on Route 318 related to the Sunny Oaks and WEC Jockey Club developments. Photo Russell Crowder

Sponsor and HFF Vice President Rob Desino asked Tracy Straub about the timing for the I-75 interchange at 49th Street and improvements to 225A now under construction. Photo Russell Crowder

Kevin Sheilley, President and CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership asked Secretary Perdue about evacuation routes during hurricanes and if the connection between the Suncoast Parkway and I-75 is needed for this purpose in light of the recent hurricane activity in the State. Photo Russell Crowder


Marion County Commissioner Craig Curry with HFF Director Chester Weber and his brother-in-law, Sam Reid. Photo Russell Crowder

Our special guests from The Peeps Foundation – a rescue for dwarf and miniature horses that recently relocated from Wellington to Ocala. Photo Russell Crowder

HFF Director Nick deMeric, with Mary Jane Hunt and Sara Fennessy. Photo Sean Dowie

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn with HFF’s Busy Shires and one of the Peeps. Photo Russell Crowder

HFF’s Michelle Grald, with Founder/Directors Linda Bammann, Jim Cannavino and Elma Garcia Cannavino. Photo Sean Dowie

Landowner Chuck Koch with Ocala Horse Properties’ Matt Varney and Rob Desino. Photo Sean Dowie

Our special guests the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shared their message.

Southern Heritage Developers partners Scott Schuck and Will Futch with HFF Event Planner Sadie Fitzpatrick and Ocala Horse Properties’ Niki Tripoldi. Photo Sean Dowie

HFF President Bernie Little with Ocala Metro CEP’s Tamara Fleischhaker (Chief Experience Officer) and Kevin Sheilley (President). Photo Sean Dowie

David Tillman of Tillman & Associates Engineer, with Ocala City Council member Kristen Dreyer and Marion County Commissioner, Craig Curry. Photo Sean Dowie.

Brought To You By:

Gold Sponsors

Diamondback Hospitality Group

William Kearns

Leonard & Lois Green Charitable Foundation

Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Misty Lane Cattle Co.
Misty Lane Cattle Co.

Cathy D. Perry Estate

Stonehall Farm

Saint Bernard Foundation

Tri-Eagle Sales Logo

Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors

Florida Horse Park Logo

Marketing Partners

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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.

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