M.C. Davis began his adult life as a gambler before making a fortune in his later years in investing. Now 70 and afflicted with stage four cancer, he is placing all his bets on creating a legacy in nature.
Unlike many conservationists, Davis doesn’t ramble on about an idyllic childhood spent outdoors, but instead recounts wild days spent in shady casinos. From age 16 to 30, his primary source of income was gambling. He soon amassed enough capital to begin investing in land and mineral rights, netting hundreds of millions in the process.
He might have continued down that path, if not for a traffic jam 20 years ago. Stuck in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, Davis pulled over to watch a presentation about black bears in a local high school.
There, he had an epiphany: his life’s purpose was to help the environment.
Davis spent the next two decades buying up large tracts of land in the Florida Panhandle, devoting over $90 million in total, and giving it all back to nature. In 2005, he planted eight million pine trees on a plot formerly owned by timber companies, aiming to restore the area to its former glory. That time won’t come for hundreds of years, and Davis admits he won’t get to see the seeds he planted reach their full potential.
But the forest is well on its way. Nokuse Plantion is now the largest tract of privately owned land in the Southeast at 54,000 acres, and longleaf pines stretching 20 feet tall dot the once- barren landscape.
The budding forest has become a refuge for new life, including over 4,000 threatened gopher tortoises, relocated from elsewhere in Florida to make room for development. The Nokuse also boasts the presence of 360 other animals, including coyote, quail, tree frogs, and bats. And of course there’s the black bear, Davis’ original muse.
The land is limited to visitors, but outdoor enthusiasts can still see Davis’ labor of love by traveling the Florida National Scene Trail. The center currently hosts thousands of school children each year, and Davis plans to fund the plantation’s education program for the foreseeable future.
Davis may have had a reawakening late in life, but he believes most adults are too stubborn to change their mind. Kids, however, can be taught early on that fame and fortune aren’t everything.
Long after he’s gone, Davis hopes to pass on the lesson that in the end, nature is the best investment we can make.