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home business Exceptional is the Rule By Janice C. Kaplan Where the the Gilchrist Club T he early morning air is cool and calm as you walk across the clearing. Eager English pointers are out front searching while the guide’s Labrador retriever holds steady at his side. The sun’s rays stream through the longleaf pine and fill the field with a warm glow as native wildlife scurries and flies nearby. Suddenly the dogs go on point. At the guide’s command, a flushing dog charges into the brush, forcing a handful of quail out of cover and into the open sky. A few well-placed gunshots punctuate the air, and soon the dog returns with the hunters’ bounty. It is this idyllic setting that appeals to sportsmen and women – the oneness with nature, the return to a simpler way of life. But some also prefer a sense of refinement, a level of comfort that allows them to focus purely on the enjoyment of hunting and fishing. They prefer the Gilchrist Club. Tucked away just north of Trenton, the Gilchrist Club is an oasis of pine-dotted fields and glistening lakes. It is a peaceful scene, a home to thousands of quail, deer, boar, fish, alligators and other native creatures. Rustic cabins and welcoming fire pits dot the landscape, coexisting with scenery that mimics the Florida of hundreds of years ago. It is also, however, an oasis of refinement and comfort. The cabins feature relaxing lounge areas, gleaming hardwood floors, kitchen conveniences and luxurious private bathrooms in every bedroom. The dining room is appointed with fine linens and a gleaming cypress bar, with gourmet meals served every day of the week. “Everybody dreams of the opportunity to have their own piece of private property,” said Bob Edwards, the Gilchrist Club’s senior vice president and general manager. “Those who eventually purchase their own hunting properties generally spend half their time bush-hogging it and squaring it away, and when they finally get the time to enjoy it they’re too tired to do so! We offer an alternative. We provide members with privileged access to 27,000 acres of professionally maintained wildlife habitat, for a fraction of the price of owning your own property.” With 70 dogs, eight professional guides, Beretta loaner guns and stocked lakes for catch-and-release fishing, the Gilchrist Club provides a relaxed setting for the discerning sportsman. Members and guests who enjoy other shooting sports can spend their time at the 5-Stand Sporting Clays range, walk the 12 Station Sporting Clays course (imagine golf with a shotgun) or take aim at the outdoor rifle and pistol target range. Club membership allows members a hunting experience like no other. The club’s guides are true outdoorsmen with years of experience in hunting 44 HOME Living In the Heart of Florida

The Gilchrist Club Where The Exceptional Is The Rule

Janice C. Kaplan

The early morning air is cool and calm as you walk across the clearing. Eager English pointers are out front searching while the guide’s Labrador retriever holds steady at his side. The sun’s rays stream through the longleaf pine and fill the field with a warm glow as native wildlife scurries and flies nearby.<br /> <br /> Suddenly the dogs go on point. At the guide’s command, a flushing dog charges into the brush, forcing a handful of quail out of cover and into the open sky. A few well-placed gunshots punctuate the air, and soon the dog returns with the hunters’ bounty.<br /> <br /> It is this idyllic setting that appeals to sportsmen and women – the oneness with nature, the return to a simpler way of life. But some also prefer a sense of refinement, a level of comfort that allows them to focus purely on the enjoyment of hunting and fishing.<br /> <br /> They prefer the Gilchrist Club.<br /> <br /> Tucked away just north of Trenton, the Gilchrist Club is an oasis of pinedotted fields and glistening lakes. It is a peaceful scene, a home to thousands of quail, deer, boar, fish, alligators and other native creatures. Rustic cabins and welcoming fire pits dot the landscape, coexisting with scenery that mimics the Florida of hundreds of years ago.<br /> <br /> It is also, however, an oasis of refinement and comfort. The cabins feature relaxing lounge areas, gleaming hardwood floors, kitchen conveniences and luxurious private bathrooms in every bedroom. The dining room is appointed with fine linens and a gleaming cypress bar, with gourmet meals served every day of the week.<br /> <br /> “Everybody dreams of the opportunity to have their own piece of private property,” said Bob Edwards, the Gilchrist Club’s senior vice president and general manager. “Those who eventually purchase their own hunting properties generally spend half their time bush-hogging it and squaring it away, and when they finally get the time to enjoy it they’re too tired to do so! We offer an alternative. We provide members with privileged access to 27,000 acres of professionally maintained wildlife habitat, for a fraction of the price of owning your own property.” <br /> <br /> With 70 dogs, eight professional guides, Beretta loaner guns and stocked lakes for catch-and-release fishing, the Gilchrist Club provides a relaxed setting for the discerning sportsman. Members and guests who enjoy other shooting sports can spend their time at the 5-Stand Sporting Clays range, walk the 12 Station Sporting Clays course (imagine golf with a shotgun) or take aim at the outdoor rifle and pistol target range.<br /> <br /> Club membership allows members a hunting experience like no other.The club’s guides are true outdoorsmen with years of experience in hunting And fishing. Guides scout locations for guests, set up whatever equipment they need, such as deer stands or turkey blinds, and coordinate the use and handling of dogs when necessary. They accompany hunters on their expeditions to handle dogs, track and retrieve game and, on occasion, watch for hazards like rattlesnakes and wild boar—all while providing informative and entertaining companionship along the way.<br /> <br /> Known as a premier quail plantation, the Gilchrist Club takes great care in maintaining the land’s ecology as it was meant to be. Before the club’s founding in 1999 the land was predominantly a pine plantation, which in some cases didn’t mesh well with native plant and animal species.<br /> <br /> “Pine tree plantations are not conducive to great wildlife habitat.Trees are planted in rows, the pine straw falls and it kills everything in the undergrowth,” said Leiza Fitzgerald, vice president of membership (and a professional angler whose team, “Screaming Reels -n- High Heels,” was ranked the top team in the nation for women and in the top 10 overall in the Redfish Tours).<br /> <br /> In an effort to restore the property to its natural state, the club has started planting longleaf pine – a pine that occurs naturally in the region – in areas that have been clear cut of the more commercially grown slash pine. As the stands of longleaf pine mature, they will be thinned into what is called a “plantation or quail thin,” where the trees are spaced 30 to 40 feet apart, which opens up the land so other natural vegetation can flourish. The club grooms and manicures the grounds, performs controlled burns every year and maintains food plots that help sustain the wildlife populations.<br /> <br /> The efforts have paid off for many species, with drastic increases in the number of quail, deer and wild turkey.<br /> <br /> “Now the habitat is so much more beneficial to the animals that are here,” Fitzgerald said.” “Our bobwhite quail has grown exponentially since we’ve been here, because they have the ability to have young. Our efforts allow them to mate and nest.” The club still maintains some of the commercially grown slash pine, harvesting the trees at different stages and selling them for timber or wood pulp. The income from this timbering supplements the membership fees and allows the club to continue conservation-minded maintenance that benefits not only guests, but neighbors on adjacent properties, too.<br /> <br /> “Deer, turkeys and quail know no boundaries,” Edwards said. “They wander onto surrounding properties, so our neighbors also benefit from our stewardship of the land. We’re not only helping the wildlife; we’re helping our neighbors enjoy their own property as well.” <br /> <br /> The bounty of the land can be experienced long after the hunt is over.The club’s Suwannee Lake Lodge is home to the Gilchrist Club’s elegant dining room. Overlooking the 125-acre Suwannee Lake, the restaurant is presided over by Executive Chef Matt Boring, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, who wields a French influence on the restaurant’s truly American cuisine.<br /> <br /> Everything from the fixtures to the food is designed with refinement and relaxation in mind. Boring regularly updates the wine list, bringing in new and different varieties from all over the world. He uses top-shelf liquors to mix classic cocktails as well as his own creations, such as a bacon bourbon Manhattan laced with maple syrup. Polished wood cabinets behind the bar can be reserved by guests who would like Boring to save an extra bottle of their favorite wine for later.<br /> <br /> While a hearty breakfast and lunch is served every day, it is Boring’s multicourse dinners that are the talk of the Gilchrist Club. The menu changes daily and is never written down, which allows Boring to get creative and use seasonal trends to plan his meals.<br /> <br /> A light first course, perhaps swordfish, is usually followed by pasta or a salad. The main course is usually a choice between meat and a lighter dish – one recent night featured deer ribeye and salmon. Other offerings have included duck confit, pheasant marsala, rabbit fricassee and thick cut, wet-aged steaks. Desserts like homemade cobbler or panna cotta provide a sweet ending. After dinner, guests often gather on the back porch or around the lakeside fire pit to enjoy a cigar while sipping port wine or other cordials.<br /> <br /> Boring explains that members often bring guests along, be it for a business meeting or simply to have a good time with friends.<br /> <br /> “They like the ‘wow factor,’” he said. “A lot of times they’ll bring clients or friends here and they want them to have that experience. We try to do everything so you’re thoroughly impressed with your club and dining experience.” <br /> <br /> In keeping with its land-consciousness, the Gilchrist Club is currently building a two-acre garden near the lodge. A self-described advocate of the farm-to-table philosophy, Boring said the garden will include fruits and vegetables appropriate for the region and season.An irrigation tank and pump will use water a nearby retention pond to nourish the plants.<br /> <br /> Such professional accommodations and the beauty of the land are not lost on Boring. “This is the best job that any chef could ever want,” he said. “And if you have a bad day, you can come outside for a few minutes and you realize what you’ve got.” <br /> <br /> At the end of the day – or anytime, really – guests can relax in cabins. While the word “cabin” often brings to mind dirty campsites and uncomfortable bunks, these rustic, yet refined lodges defy that association. They include all the comforts of home, such as private bedrooms with king and queen size beds, their own porches and fire pits, and lounge areas that include couches, televisions, sinks and beverage coolers. Larger cabins also include a kitchen, a fireplace and a pool table.<br /> <br /> Enjoyment of the grounds and amenities is all-inclusive for members who pay a one-time initiation fee and yearly dues. But with the recent economic times, the Gilchrist Club is creating alternatives so more people can experience the pristine balance of nature and sport.<br /> <br /> Starting this year, the dining room will be open Friday evenings by reservation to the general public from May through August (reservations must be received by the previous Wednesday). Social memberships are also available, in which guests can enjoy the shooting range and make reservations for the dining room any night of the week.While lodging is not included as it is with full membership, social members can enjoy an overnight stay during the off-season as long as space is available.<br /> <br /> More plans are in the works for the Gilchrist Club, including an activity center with a large meeting room. While the club currently hosts smaller business and team-building retreats, the new center will be able to accommodate 75 people in a conference setting and up to 150 in a cocktail setting. The warm rustic feel of the rest of the property will be echoed with wood beams, a fireplace and large windows that look out onto Suwannee Lake. A pool is also planned for outside the center.<br /> <br /> The main priority of the Gilchrist Club remains the same – an ecologically friendly hunting and recreational experience like no other.<br /> <br /> “We offer the discerning sportsman an opportunity to purchase membership at the Gilchrist Club for a fraction of the price of ownership,” said Edwards. “It’s a hidden diamond in the middle of Gilchrist County, a unique place with a natural beauty about it. We are working on some long-term programs to preserve that natural beauty and enhance it by returning parts of the club back to its original state before man had a major input on it.<br /> <br /> “We try to create an environment that will always benefit Mother Nature and the wildlife that surrounds it.”

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