Over the next five years, Tucker Ranch—a sprawling 209-acre park along Tilden Road that was once a working cattle ranch—will become an integrated health and wellness campus focused on improving residents’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, within the backdrop of an old Florida landscape.
A $6 million lead grant from the West Orange Healthcare District will primarily fund the new campus, which will feature a 5,000 square-foot retreat center, teaching and working farm, outdoor demonstration kitchen, greenhouse, gardens, trails, outdoor fitness and recreational areas. Construction is expected to begin in 2021 and will be substantially complete by 2023.
The City of Winter Garden has invested $5 million to date with a commitment to invest an additional $2 million over the next five years, bringing the City’s investment to $7 million. The City has constructed much of the needed infrastructure and has completed a children’s playground, restrooms and picnic pavilions.
“This is a bold, ambitious plan to create lasting change in our community and make all of us healthier, inside and out,” said Rod Talbot, chair of the West Orange Healthcare District. “Tucker Ranch will engage residents in all kinds of activities that not only contribute to good health, but have been proven to prevent chronic disease and addiction. It’s a true gift to our community.”
In 2017, District trustees initially awarded the City of Winter Garden a grant to build a working farm on the Tucker Ranch property; the concept was to grow fruits and vegetables on the farm that, in turn, would become an important resource for local residents lacking access to affordable, fresh produce.
Before construction on the farm began, however, the plan evolved to encompass a broader mission, one that would also meet the expanded needs of a community emerging from the impacts of a pandemic.
“This project will transform the West Orange community by providing a regional asset dedicated to state-of-the-art health and wellness, all within a natural setting that gives visitors the chance to reconnect with nature,” said Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer. “This will be a world-class facility and a model for holistic health and wellness.”
According to Bollhoefer, the project is built on four main pillars:
- Food and Nutrition – the park will promote heathy eating and teach residents how to make the most of locally grown, in-season food. The working and teaching farm originally envisioned is still part of the plan, and will feature a greenhouse, farm store, an outdoor teaching kitchen, and edible and educational gardens. All produce grown at Tucker Ranch will be distributed and sold to local food outlets, such as the Winter Garden Farmers Market.
- Fitness and Rehab – the park’s design and programming will make it easier for residents to stay active and have fun as they maintain their health or get back on the road to recovery. Approximately 20 acres will be used to create an integrated health and wellness park that includes a trail system with outdoor exercise equipment. An advanced fitness area with a covered pavilion will cater to athletes and more active residents, and a multi-purpose retreat center will host regular health and wellness classes.
- Natural Environment – many of the classes and programming will be held outdoors, taking full advantage of the park’s natural benefits. There will also be several recreational components in the park, including a primitive campground, hiking trails, and a canoe and kayak launch on John’s Lake.
- Mental Health – the park’s outdoor setting will provide abundant fresh air and sunshine, helping to create a positive mental outlook. Studies have shown that walking in a natural setting can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and potentially improve memory. Even calming sounds found in nature can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
The City has created a consortium of local healthcare organizations who will guide and contribute to the programming. Consortium members include Healthy West Orange, a grassroots movement established by the District to help residents eat well and stay active, as well as AdventHealth, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Community Health Centers, Mental Health Association of Central Florida, Nemours, Orlando Health, Shepherd’s Hope, and UCP of Central Florida.