Photo: Carlton Ward Jr.
"We're lucky to live in a state of 22 million people and growing that still has this incredible environment," says Dimmitt, a conservationist and the CEO of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation.
Florida Icon: Mallory Lykes Dimmitt
(Conservationist/CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, St. Petersburg; age 46)
Both of my parents are native Floridians, which is unusual. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time outdoors, visiting state parks and paddling along rivers. My family is part of a ranching family, and we’d go to the ranch on certain weekends. We tried to be outside as much as possible. That definitely helped to shape my career interests and shaped what I do today.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor is nearly 20 million acres of connected conservation lands or agricultural lands. It spans the whole state from southeast to west, from the Everglades to the Georgia border and all the way west across the panhandle to the Alabama border. The system is stronger if we can keep it all connected, but 8.1 million acres are not protected. Those acres are part of the corridor now, but nothing guarantees that they will be in the future.
The act was passed in 2021. It designates and recognizes this geography in state statute and encourages its conservation, but money is an annual request in Florida. So, it’s not just this year’s legislators that we need. We also need to inspire the next ones down the road. To protect all of this land, it’s going to take hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and it only gets more expensive the longer we wait and land values appreciate. Our big focus is to invest in it now and at a significant level. Our organization and others are also working to bring greater private investment into the corridor’s protection.
My brother died in 2017 by suicide, and through that tragedy our family has taken a much closer look at mental health and suicide and shifted our focus. We’ve always cared about art and the environment, but also now we’re trying to do good in the mental health space. We founded a foundation called Love IV Lawrence in his honor, and we work to make grants to community providers in the mental health space to help eliminate the stigma attached to mental health, to prevent suicides and to save lives. That has been incredibly meaningful.
Most Floridians live along the coast and face outward, toward the water, and so sometimes we forget about the heart of Florida, even though it’s essentially right in everyone’s back yard. Our challenge is making the interior of Florida relevant to everyone.
We had a Key lime tree in my yard when I was growing up. When I moved out of state to go to college, I think the best care package I ever received was my mom sent me a pie crust, a bag of Key limes and a recipe for Key lime pie.
My dad is a third-generation auto dealer in Pinellas County. My mom’s side of the family is the Lykes family, which has been here for six or seven generations and was one of those pioneering families that came to Florida in the mid-1800s seeking a new life. They came from South Carolina and settled in Brooksville. Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes got his start in agriculture there, planting orange groves, having a timber operation and eventually getting into the cattle-shipping business.
There’s a part of conservation work that we haven’t invested enough time in yet that I’m really interested in, which is encouraging the vibrancies of our cities and built environments. Density in those places actually benefits visions like the Florida Wildlife Corridor, so that we don’t continue the pattern of sprawl.
I notice that when I’m noticing things about nature, the other things on my mind sort of melt away.
It’s tragic to see the decline of the citrus industry in Florida, but there are still those who are hanging in and trying to find a way forward through the citrus greening disease, and I’m hopeful for them. I don’t want to see all of those citrus lands lost to development, although I know some have already been developed. It’s amazing how the loss of one crop can change Florida’s environment in many ways.
I reread A Land Remembered recently. For many reasons, it should be required reading for all Floridians. It tells of Florida’s history, from pioneering days to a foreshadowing of Florida’s future development. It’s an amalgamation of many people’s stories, but I see some real overlap with my family’s story — gathering cattle, driving them to Punta Rassa and later to Tampa to put them on ships. That was my family’s story.
I’ve had ability to trek through the Florida Wildlife Corridor on different wildlife corridor expeditions and traveled more than 2,200 miles on foot, on bicycle and by kayak, in order to have this sort of intimate connection to these lands and to share the experience with others. Our 2019 expedition was called Ranch to Ridge. We were traveling along the Lake Wales Ridge and at the end of kind of a long day, we crossed into private conservation land in the Lake Livingston Conservation Bank area. We came to this beautiful pond, and we were meeting folks there, and it started raining. We were pretty exhausted and tired, and we stood there together and experienced this Florida rainstorm in the late afternoon light. It was a moving and joyous experience. We all felt it, and we were like kids celebrating, just honored to be in that moment. Of course, there was a rainbow afterward, and it was stunningly beautiful.
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