Orange Hammock Ranch: Now and Forever

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast: Orange Hammock Ranch.

How often do you get the opportunity to make something important last forever?

With an exciting deal in the works to permanently protect the environmentally sensitive Orange Hammock Ranch property in southeast Sarasota County, such an opportunity is here. And each of us can help make this land-conservation dream come true.

It’s been well covered in our local media that Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Cabinet authorized state funding to purchase and permanently protect Orange Hammock Ranch. At nearly 6,000 acres, it’s the largest undeveloped property in our county. The $21-million acquisition deal hinges on $1.5 million in philanthropy pledged by our friends at Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

The Conservation Foundation has launched a robust campaign to raise those funds from our community by a June 1 deadline. Here are three big reasons we love this opportunity and urge you to get involved:

Enhancing our unique places. Ours is a region of choice, for many reasons. Our beautiful coastal environment tops that list. Enhancing the unique places that make the Gulf Coast “the Gulf Coast” is a priority if we expect to maintain our enviable reputation and sustain our treasured quality of life. It’s long been a point of pride (and advantage) that Sarasota County holds more than 30 percent of its land in conservation. This acquisition will build on that vision by preventing any development on the property, forever. It will expand critical wildlife habitat and add new opportunities for recreation, education, and eco-tourism.

Adding exponential value. We can’t put a finer point on it: This is the single-most environmentally important property still under private ownership in our county and preserving it will exponentially increase the environmental value of all of the conservation areas surrounding it. It will provide a functional wildlife corridor from the Myakka River to the Peace River. For native species whose habitat is increasingly impinged on, think of it like Costa Rica connecting two continents, it’s that significant. As a keystone parcel adjacent to more than 120,000 surrounding acres of conservation area, this investment increases the value of tens of millions of dollars already invested in previously preserved lands. It also frees up millions in county funding that had been earmarked for this parcel and now can be dedicated to other environmentally sensitive lands. And it’s not just wildlife that will benefit. The property encompasses the headwaters and watershed for the large city of North Port’s surface drinking water supply. Ensuring that the area’s natural soil and vegetation will continue to filter and clean that water as it flows down the waterway will secure the quality of North Port’s water supply forever.

Leveraging opportunity. Fulfilling the Conservation Foundation pledge of $1.5 million will trigger $19.5 million in state funding approved from the Florida Forever program. Just do the math: That’s a 13-to-1 return on privately donated dollars. You can leverage that ROI—for your community today and for countless future generations—with a gift in any amount. But the deadline to meet the goal is June 1. Go to ConservationFoundation.com to participate.

Mark Pritchett is President and CEO for the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Photo courtesy Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast: Orange Hammock Ranch.

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