Great Minds Meet at White Oak

Sanctuary for man & beast offering ultimate seclusion, White Oak has hosted global policy makers & top celebrities. Now seeking corporate meetings.

Great minds have come together at White Oak, Plantation, a retreat where global policy makers sojourn, as well as stars. Some of the world’s most famous music, film, and dance performing artists and entertainers have traveled to this place, the legacy of Howard Gilman.

A sampling of previous guests at White Oak include  President Clinton (who visited during his presidency and since), Colin Powell, Al Gore, Madonna, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julia Roberts, and John Travolta. Plus, the heads of some of America’s top corporations, Nobel laureates, and foreign dignitaries. These are just some of the famous who have traveled to White Oak Plantation, located about 20 minutes from Amelia Island in northeast Florida.

In 1999, the White Oak Plantation was the escape from Washington for President Clinton & the former first lady, Hillary, during a tumultuous time in his presidency, the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The former president has returned to White Oak post-presidency. Clinton Global Initiative planning retreats are held at the Plantation.

Getting into White Oak Plantation in previous years was only possible via invitation. However, a new open door policy is beginning (or, at least, a widening of the threshold.) Welcomed news, after a history of tight access.

White Oak wants to attract corporate clients for business meetings and retreats. The public can also take a special tour of the animal conservation area (see more below and watch video of the rare Okapi).

If you’re thinking “I’ve never heard of White Oak Plantation,” you’re not alone. Many haven’t, including some people who actually live in Nassau County. In past years, White Oak Plantation had not sought publicity, helping to shield its guests from the media and paparazzi-types. It is golfers who may know it better than most, since White Oak has allowed some to book tee times in recent years. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to take a private tour of White Oak back in 2002.

THE ALLURE OF WHITE OAK

What was originally a rice plantation, then later cultivated for cotton and timber, has been developed into a wonderful sanctuary for both man and beast. A place offering ultimate seclusion with a unique animal conservation center. Straddling the St. Marys River on the Florida/Georgia border, this enchanting, private oasis is a magical place to learn about efforts to help save rare animals. But it also offers a golf course, an equestrian center with 25 miles of horse trails and jumps, multiple lodges, swimming pools, tennis courts, an archery range, a dance studio for performing artists, a yacht club, and even a couple of lanes of bowling. A very unique combination of amenities, a storied history, and the setting of a natural preserve.

But most unique about the Plantation is White Oak’s Conservation Center, nurturing many species of endangered animals, home to hundreds on the property. What White Oak has is a “genetic bank” in captivity. The Conservation Center has developed a captive breeding program for the okapi, described as “perhaps the most unique large mammal in the world.” Besides trying to save animal species, White Oak is an educational center with a veterinary hospital offering internships and residencies, and they provide training for wildlife professionals and students of zoology.

CONSERVATION TOURS

The public can take a tour of the animal conservation area of White Oak Plantation on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am, and ride in an open van for the 90-minute exploration. Larger groups of 24 can book a trolley tour on Saturdays. The cost for this unique opportunity to see some of White Oak’s animals is $50 per person, call 904-225-3396 for more information. Credit card reservations are taken via phone. Learn more about the animals at the White Oak Conservation Center’s website.

HOWARD GILMAN

The man behind White Oak is the late Howard Gilman, former chairman and CEO of Gilman Paper Company of St. Marys, Georgia which became the largest privately-owned paper and building products company in the USA. Gilman was a performing arts lover, avid collector, supported medical research (cardiology and HIV/AIDS), and had a strong commitment to animal conservation. And that’s why amidst the pines, live oaks, crape myrtle and palmettos in Nassau County, Florida on the Georgia border are species of endangered animals.

White Oak Conservation Center is one of the world’s premiere wildlife breeding, research, and training facilities. With a global reputation, the center is dedicated to maintaining genetically healthy breeding of rare and near extinct animals. White Oak Plantation is remarkable and a world of its own, and now more of the public will be able to gain entry to this “animal planet.”

CORPORATE MEETINGS

Corporate meeting planners looking to offer a really unique meeting destination off the beaten path should look into White Oak Plantation for their event. It’s sure to intrigue even the most seasoned corporate travelers. Ideal for smaller meetings, White Oak Plantation can accommodate around 50 overnight guests and about double that for a day conference or meeting, but contact the Plantation for more information.

Suffering from the recession, a catalyst to invite the public into this very special place in northeast Florida reportedly is economic (to raise funds to help run the plantation). So those who utilize the venue for meetings will be helping to support Gilman’s ideals — conservation of endangered species, support of the arts, and funding medical research.

Note that back around 2002, White Oak experimented with corporate memberships at hefty prices, said to be in the $125K to $150K price range, but that business concept apparently did not take off.

By The Editor

"PERSPECTIVE" column features observations of island life, news & opinion by managing editor, Wendy Lawson. With a professional background that began at a newspaper, she later spent 14 years in the financial services and real estate industries. She was a managing editor at an equity research and publishing firm in New York and later became Series 7 licensed while at Merrill Lynch. Since 1993, she's enjoyed the laid-back Amelia lifestyle and loves photographing coastal nature and seascapes around the Florida-Georgia border.