Preserving beautiful, unspoiled Orange Hammock Ranch has been a priority for local governments, nonprofits and environmentalists for decades. Now, thanks to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and the state of Florida, the property could soon be protected forever, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t dampen fundraising efforts.
Protecting Orange Hammock Ranch has been an aim of the Conservation Foundation since the organization was founded in 2003. The nonprofit first had to convince the landowners to sell the property to the state for $21 million. Once that was arranged, the ranch was added to a list of properties being considered for conservation through the state’s land acquisition trust fund, Florida Forever.
The state has purchased more than 814,000 acres of land worth more than $3.1 billion through Florida Forever, but the Orange Hammock Ranch deal languished for years because of local and state politics. State leaders finally voted in February to allocate $19.5 million to buy the land, a deal that depends upon the Conservation Foundation raising $1.5 million before the end of May to make up the difference. The foundation has raised $900,000 so far, and a group of donors has pledged to match $300,000 if the foundation can raise an additional $300,000.
The ranch takes up 5,777 acres in North Port and contains mostly wetlands. Used in recent years for hunting, the property has never been used for agriculture and is largely untouched by human hands. Quail, snakes, bears and an endangered Florida panther have been spotted there. Part of the Myakka Island Conservation Corridor, it’s a crucial connection to existing natural preserves, and the ranch’s rainfall feeds waterways that are vital sources of drinking water for North Port.
Since the state’s money was allocated for the purchase before the coronavirus pandemic, the economic damage caused by the virus has not affected the deal. But Conservation Foundation president Christine Johnson acknowledges that raising money for land conservation is more difficult when there are so many emergency needs. Still, she’s optimistic. “This pandemic is showing the need for open public space,” Johnson says. “We need to have more places like Orange Hammock Ranch for people to walk on, minister to their souls and improve their mental health.”
Interested in supporting the Conservation Foundation’s effort to preserve Orange Hammock Ranch? Click here.