Pulling up to the 4,700 acres that make up Forever Florida, visitors would probably never guess the adventures that wait inside — or the story that helped bring them to life.
The property has everything a true nature lover could want: a real working ranch, horseback riding, trail buggy tours, camping, Camp Illahaw and a big draw — zip lines, zip line rides and the Allen Broussard Conservancy.
The ranch is called the Crescent J Ranch, and on it, guests can find about 100 horses, around 90 of which are Cracker horses. They offer an afternoon fully guided trail ride for riders of all experience levels on the Cracker horses.
The horses also have some history of their own.
“Cracker horses were brought over from Spain, of Spanish descent,” said Misty, who brought News 6 anchor Kirstin O’Connor and traffic safety expert Steve Montiero on a horseback riding tour.
“They were brought over by Ponce de Leon back in 1521. These horses are especially hearty and have a lot of endurance and they also work cattle rodeo.”
Misty said the Cracker horses are bred right on the ranch. It’s one of the largest herds of the horses in the world and they have to be DNA tested to be confirmed as the rare breed. The ranch also houses Charolais and Cracker cattle — which are also rare — with some of the largest herds in the world on the property.
“They all have different patterns. Both the male and females have horns, and we actually mix-breed them,” Christian, a guide at the facility, said. “The Charolais cows are bigger and the Cracker cows have better immune systems because they’re the first native cows of Florida.”
While exploring Forever Florida, O’Connor and Montiero saw everything from peacocks and gators to hawks, bald eagles and owls.
Christian took the pair on a trail buggy tour to the zip line courses — another tour guests can book at the conservancy. On the tour, O’Connor and Montiero heard the story behind it all.
“Here we’re entering onto Allen’s Lane and our trail buggies are named after the Broussard family.
They’re the whole reason we’re out here,” Christian said. “If you look at this tree, this is a magnolia tree. It’s blooming very beautiful with big beautiful white flowers.”
What’s the significance of the magnolia tree?
“This was actually Allen’s favorite tree, so they planted 240 trees along Allen’s Lane,” Christian said.
And who exactly is Allen Broussard?
According to words written by Broussard’s mother, Margaret, Broussard was born in 1961 and from the beginning, always seemed to have a love for nature.
He loved learning about the habits and traits of animals. He was a Boy Scout and spent time doing outdoor sports like surfing and water skiing, opportunities he used to learn all he could about all that lives in the water.
After he graduated high school, the family took a camping and backpacking trip to Alaska. It was on that trip that they noticed how talented Broussard was at looking at animal tracks, checking out the different habits of different kinds of fish and looking at all kinds of animals. His family said he was a true conservationist and lover of Florida.
Broussard had to take a two-year break after that to be treated for cancer. He then went to Colorado State, where he graduated with honors from the university’s Wildlife Management School. Broussard wanted to do field research, go to graduate school and become a college professor. He got into several serious research projects, but soon after, suffered a serious heart attack — an unintended consequence of the radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy he’d been through years before. Broussard was told he needed a heart transplant, but, in 1990, died at the age of 29 due to complications of the transplant surgery.
There was little doubt that Broussard would have made a great ecologist, so his family created the Allen Broussard Conservancy, which owns Forever Florida, in his honor.
Signs of Broussard can be seen throughout the conservancy.
Other things, including several gators, could be seen as O’Connor and Montiero continued their path with Christian. It was also from Christian that they got a complete lesson on the wildlife.
“You can’t tell if it’s a male or female unless you flip it upside down,” Christian said. “Gators are actually territorial. They’ll actually live in the same spot their whole life until it is disturbed or destroyed. If you look at the surface of the water, you see that green stuff covering it, it’s called duckweed. It’s actually the smallest plant in the whole world. Scientists say if we ever had a shortage of resources, they would actually farm it because it’s easy to farm and it has the most amount of nutrients that your body requires.”
The News 6 team even received a few survival tips to keep in their back pockets.
“So if you’re in the wild, just take that, maybe rinse it off, and you can eat it,” Christian said.
The tour continued as Christian explained which species belonged to which areas of the conservatory.
“What we’re entering here is called a canopy hammock — trees on both sides, overhead as well — covering us and giving us shade. This is where a lot of wildlife will travel to,” Christian said. “It’s also 10 degrees cooler than when we’re out of the sun, so in the summertime this is the place to be.”
At the zip line course, Christian, Montiero and O’Connor met up with Alvin, another guide who talked to them about the background of the zip line courses. But before guests can ride the zip lines, there’s an upward hike.
Guests first have to climb 104 steps up to the platforms where all the zip line rides start, 78 feet high in the air, which is nearly eight stories.
Then comes the history lesson.
“We first started zip lining in 2009. We were the first zip line in Florida, this has been here since about 2013,” Alvin said. “We decided to go a little higher and a little faster and also with different rides. We got the roller coasters — the only one in the U.S. (and) maybe the third or fourth in the world. So pretty much, we were the first ones to experiment with this ride. We call it a roller coaster because you’re doing straights, you’re doing turns, dips, ups, downs. It takes about a minute and seven seconds depending on the wind and some of the drops can feel like 30 to 40 mph depending. It all depends on the body weight and momentum.”
Alvin said guests have to be between 55 and 265 pounds to try the zip line rides.
There’s also the Panther Pounce, an assisted free fall drop to the ground below. Guests can also try the two and a half-hour adventure where riders go along multiple zip lines and sky bridges before finishing off with a 1,300-foot zip line ride. All of the rides zip through the wild, where guests can see native trees and plants and potentially even wildlife.
Guests need to book in advance for any of the adventures. The adventures range in cost from $20 to $90, depending on what visitors are looking to do. Get a complete breakdown of pricing options here.
Click here to read more about Allen Broussard’s story.