March 10, 2023

North Florida Land Trust spent Sunday with a sold-out crowd of donors, supporters and community leaders at its Annual Meeting at The Barn Palm Valley where it was a celebration of success, a look at the future and a first look of the nonprofit’s new logo and branding package. The audience heard reports from President Allison DeFoor and from each of NFLT’s departments including conservation acquisitions, stewardship, operations and philanthropic services. DeFoor delivered a message – it is now or never for land conservation.

“If we don’t want north Florida to look like south Florida, it is now or never,” said DeFoor. “We have hard choices to make, and it is imperative that we make them now because it is now or never. If we want to ensure our grandchildren know what Florida really is, we must act now.”

Ben and Louann Williams from Wetland Preserve and Advocate of the Year Winners

THE PLAYERS, Wetland Preserve and Lisa Barton Team were the Black Bear sponsors for the event. DeFoor thanked them and the rest of the sponsors and donors for their generous support and congratulated the NFLT staff for their hard work throughout the year. Ramesh Buch, director of conservation acquisitions, talked about his team’s perseverance which allowed them to preserve 3,730 acres in 2022. Those acquisitions include 157 acres in Putnam County that advanced a critical linkage between the Etoniah Creek State Forest and Camp Blanding; the addition of two acres to the 160-acre Basal-Chico conservation easement along the St. Mary’s River; and 400 acres in Clay County within the Ocala to Osceola (O2O) Wildlife Corridor. The team also updated the nonprofit’s preservation priority area and are currently helping both Nassau and Clay County with their conservation plans.

Director of Stewardship Rianna Elliot touted the new home of the stewardship team at Smith Lake Preserve in Clay County. She said the stewardship department is now able to bring much of its work in-house instead of outsourcing and have acquired equipment that will allow them to more efficiently manage the more than 16,000 acres in NFLT’s portfolio. They are working on restoration projects properties including at Little Rain Lake in Clay County and Little NaNa Dune in American Beach. They have also been able to introduce prescribed fire at two of NFLT’s preserves.

Roney Gutierrez, the nonprofit’s new chief operating officer, told the crowd he is confident in NFLT’s staff and in the financial health of NFLT. He said the previous administration set them up for success and the organization will continue to grow. Board Member and Chair of the Development Committee Lisa Barton discussed the fundraising arm which ran a successful campaign at the end of the year which raised more than $682,000 for conservation and was able to meet a match from the Delores Barr Weaver Fund in just a short amount of time. She said the goal for 2023 is to reach even more people and bring them into the organization. DeFoor also announced the move to become a membership organization to attract more supporters and to make NFLT the number one land trust in the U.S.

“Time is of the essence, and we need to act more boldly and more quickly to protect Florida’s natural spaces,” said Board Chair Matt Rapp. “We have made tremendous progress and grown exponentially over the last five years and now is the time to up our game. We began the rebranding process in fall of 2022 and now have a strategic plan that is more visionary and relevant to the post-pandemic future before us.”

Rapp shared a teaser of NFLT’s new logo and brand. The new brand package will include new taglines for the organization along with logos for NFLT partnerships including Amelia Forever and the O2O Wildlife Corridor. NFLT plans to reveal the new branding in April.

The keynote speaker for the annual event was Clay Henderson, an author, environmental lawyer, and educator who has been an important part of the conservation effort in Florida throughout his long career. Henderson’s long ties to conservation include serving as president of the Florida Audubon Society and the Florida Trust of Historic Preservation. He championed many conservation causes including some of Florida’s signature land acquisition programs including Preservation 2000, Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust. His recent book, “Forces of Nature,” is an environmental history of Florida. It tells the story of the people who helped save some of Florida’s natural spaces including former mayor and NFLT board chair John Delaney.  

Henderson also told the story of how he helped NFLT founder Bill McQuilkin establish the nonprofit land conservation organization and get it up and running. He said the love of conservation is so rewarding because you get to see the tangible results of your work when the land is protected forever and its something he says everyone can take part in.

“I am proud of the work that North Florida Land Trust has done and continues to do,” said Henderson. “We all have the capacity to do this, and one person can really make a difference. You may be good at raising money or know landowners who would be willing to conserve their land or have the funds to donate to save these lands. Each of you has the potential to help with land conservation which will be a lasting legacy seen for generations to come.”

To wrap up the event, Rapp and DeFoor recognized the new members of the McQuilkin Society, which honors major donors. The new members are Stephen and Betsy Crosby, Charley Moore, Bob and Thea Gude, David Holt and Carole Reynolds-Holt, David Moross, Dr. Sally Ryden, Harold and Nannette Tool, Inman Parks Lofts, LLC, Lory Doolittle, Marco Family Foundation, Margaret Davis, Matt and Stacey Roesch, Sibley-Saltonstall Charitable Foundation, THE PLAYERS Championship, Wayne and Jean Middleton, and Wayne and Pat Hogan.

Allison DeFoor and members of Protect Nassau Now or Never PAC – Advocate of the Year Winners

Ben and Louann Williams and members of Protect Nassau Now or Never PAC were given the Advocate of the Year Award. The Partner of the Year Award was given to NAIOP NEFL Commercial Real Estate Development Association in the corporate category, Trust for Public Land received the nonprofit partner award, and the government partner award went to Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). NFLT’s immediate past board chair John Delaney was named the volunteer of the year and the Legacy Award was presented to JoAnn Leimberg in recognition of her husband Steve Leimberg and to Cyrus Spurlino and the Spurlino Foundation. Each award recipient received an original work by artist Alice Shinkos, who donated the pieces.

About North Florida Land Trust

North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of life by protecting North Florida’s irreplaceable natural environment. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through the donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements.  NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations.