If you ask a group of newcomers what attracted them to Ocala, you will get a myriad of answers. However, the most common reply is that they were attracted by the area’s natural beauty and central location. Certainly, almost every new resident comments on the rolling hills, Spanish Moss-laden oaks, and acre upon acre of farms with foals or calves frolicking in the morning mists.
With a large number of our population moving from the confined chaos of urban areas, both north and south of Ocala, many people are awed by our expansive vistas, bountiful bird and wildlife populations, and clean air. Of course, northerners are attracted to our mild winters, and they often are surprised and happy to see here trees and plants that grow in their home states as well. The fact that this area is a gardening paradise may be the most underrated asset of the area. Not only do many tropical plants thrive here with some protection in the winter, but many plants that grow “up north” also do well with some protection in the summer!
The natural assets of the area extend beyond just visual and photo ops. Our forests, rivers, and springs offer unlimited recreational opportunities. The area has four major rivers, several natural springs, and it is bordered on the east by Lake Weir, all havens for water sports. A visit to one of the springs or a canoe trip down one of the rivers is trip back to primeval times. In fact, people often say that they moved to Ocala because it ‘doesn’t look like the real Florida.’ Technically that is not accurate because Ocala-Marion County does look like the real Florida-the real old Florida. What they mean, of course, is that the area does not look like the coastal cities of Florida that have come to represent, in many people’s minds, Florida in general.
Recreational opportunities also abound in the area’s parks which include two city parks, twenty county parks, six state parks, and the Ocala National Forest. Ocala has two municipal golf courses-the 18-hold Municipal Course and the 27-hole Pine Oaks Course. There are many fine private golf courses in the area as well. Municipal tennis courts and swimming pools also are available to residents.
Another attraction for many is Ocala’s central location. Ocala is 75 miles from the attractions, cultural offerings, shopping, and the international airport in Orlando. It is 35 miles to Gainesville and all the museums, concerts, and sporting events that a ‘college town’ offers as well as a regional airport. Ocala is 64 miles to the beaches on the East Coast and a mere 45 miles to the Gulf. St. Augustine, with its historic buildings and beautiful beaches, is an easy two-hour drive.
Just because people are attracted by the short distance to other cities’ cultural assets, do not think that Ocala is lacking in that area. The Appleton Museum of Art and the Ocala Civic Theatre are beyond in quality what many larger cities have to offer. Ocala-Marion County also has a fine symphony orchestra that gives several concerts each year, including the very popular Mother’s Day Concert Under the Stars. Central Florida Community College offers a series of theatre productions and concerts that are open to the public. Art courses are available at CFCC as well as at several private venues, including Red Swan Art and Supply Store and Gallery East. Ocala also has several fine dance schools. Ocala is an extremely charitable community, and many fundraisers for the various charities take the form of cultural events, adding to the area’s yearly calendar of offerings.
Marion County has a rich history dating back to before 1492 when the Timucua Indians settled the area and called it Ocali. Marion County was named after Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox,” who led a band of locals in the fight against the British. Many people over 45 probably remember the Walt Disney Movie, The Swamp Fox.
Two other movies brought to life another slice of area history-The Yearling and Cross Creek, both based on the books by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The former earned Rawlings the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for her depiction of a family living on the edge of the Ocala National Forest in the early 20th century.
Feeling of Community
In spite of its large and diverse population, Ocala has a strong feeling of community. Our beautiful town square and historic district adorned with Victorian homes is a focal point. Veteran’s Memorial Park also is a place that draws the community together with ceremonies to honor the sacrifices and service of our local veterans. The spirit of community also is evident is our friendly and caring residents who donate hours of their time volunteering in our schools and hospitals and working with our multitude of charitable organizations.
There are so many things to do in Ocala/Marion County and so many organizations to join that it would be impossible to mention all of them. Being “The Horse Capital of the World,” there are many breed organizations, clubs for specific riding disciplines such as dressage and cutting, 4-H Pony Club, Marion Therapeutic Riding Association, etc. The area has several fine show facilities, including the Florida Horse Park. Riders who enjoy being out on the trail will appreciate the miles and miles of Florida Greenway Trails.
There are also many agricultural organizations outside of equine-related ones, including those related to cattle, llamas, crops, and gardening. There are clubs for plants from roses, to camellias, to orchids, to bromeliads. The area has several fine dog trainers who offer courses in obedience and agility, and there is a dog show facility here where area dog clubs host shows.
Ocala Regional Airport, as well as several private aviation communities, makes this a great place for the private pilot. Each year, ORA hosts the display of several WWII bombers, and residents have a chance to climb into them and even take a flight.
Ocala has been designated an “All American City” by the National Civic League. In 1995, it was named the 5th most desirable place to live by Money Magazine.
Come for a visit and experience all that is Ocala-Marion County. There is something special waiting here for you too!
For more information and statistics visit the Ocala-Marion County Chamber of Commerce website at www.ocalacc.com.