YULEE, Fla. -- White Oak, the Yulee piece of property where Presidents have visited and rare animals roam, has been kept off the public's radar for decades. However, recently that's changed and more people are discovering a jewel right in our own backyard.
The Gilman family purchased the 7,000 acre White Oak property in 1938. It supplied trees to the family's paper company. Howard Gilman, who died in 1998, loved animals. He started a conservation program here decades ago.
Now hundreds of animals, many of them endangered, are bred and raised on the property. White Oak has also been a retreat for global conferences like the Clinton Global Initiative. It also played host to stars like Julia Roberts and JFK Junior.
For years, White Oak was hidden from the public, open to just the rich, celebrities and politically connected. But now, that's changed because of new owners.
Tours are now offered two days a week.
Mark Walter, one of the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers bought White Oak in March.
Members of the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce recently saw what White Oak has to offer. Prehistoric fossils are on display, a hand carved bar from the 1800s, a gym, a bowling alley and the dance studio Gilman built for Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1980s.
But the pride of White Oak is its conservation program. It's not everyday you can be within feet of a cheetah.
"We have one of the best breeding programs for cheetahs in the world," said Brandon Speeg, the White Oak Conservation Coordinator.
You can also feel the rough hide of a white rhinoceros. The focus of the conservation program is on large hoofed animals, carnivores, large birds as well as rhinos and giraffes.
White Oak also has a golf course, and 80 beds for overnight accommodations.
"I hear a lot about White Oak being from Nassau County. You hear about the excitement of the animals being out here. It's like that hidden jewel that you hear about but a lot of people don't come out," said Justin Taylor, public relations representative of the Nassau County Property Appraisers Office.
Now, anyone can visit this First Coast Find to experience art, nature and the beauty of rare animals. White Oak officials are quick to point out that and even though the facility is open for public tours it's not a zoo it's a conservation center.
Two hour tours run on Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. The cost is $100 per person. There's also a sunset safari set for December 7th for $300 a couple.
First Coast News