After you read some of the history and vision narratives on this website you still may be wondering how I came up with the idea and why do it in Fredericksburg, Texas?
I wish I could just say it all came to me in a dream, but it was a more extended mind journey. When we purchased the property back in 2005 I was not thinking about building a Longneck Manor. Frankly, we bought the property as an investment and intended to flip it and make a profit.
I never thought about living in Fredericksburg until a few years later when I heard that some rich guy wanted to build something similar to Giraffe Manor (just outside of Nairobi, Kenya) but on a Caribbean Island. Needless to say giraffes don’t do well on tropical islands with saltwater, palm trees and beach sand. That idea never went any further but it got me thinking about taking that concept and expanding on it by adding more species and incorporating a stronger conservation commitment.
The other major consideration was the climate and location. The Texas Hill Country has a similar climate to many areas in Africa where you find giraffe, rhinos and cheetah. It has short mild winters and hot summers, typical of many big game areas in east and southern Africa.
Another challenge was “if you build it, will they come”? I had no imaginary voice telling me it was the right thing to do. Most everyone liked my idea but doubted I would take on another big project after my Disney and Houston adventures. I was not even sure when I was going to retire from Houston, not to mention that I would have to finance this one with my own life savings and raise additional money along the way.
So I started sketching out designs and thinking through how to make it more unique and exciting than other private animal parks. I focused on quality over quantity. Most of this brainstorming was done during long plane trips or sitting through endless meetings. At about this same time I noticed how Fredericksburg was rapidly transforming into a popular destination to live or visit. It still maintained that old town German charm but also added a major museum (National Museum of the Pacific War), fine dinning, art galleries and of course all the wineries. It also has an excellent private airport that was attracting more and more private planes every year. Combine that with wildflowers, peach festivals and visits to nearby Enchanted Rock and you have one of the nicest towns in Texas, and maybe the entire country.
Fredericksburg has become the Bed and Breakfast capital of Texas and draws weekend guests from all the major Texas cities: Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth and San Antonio. I am looking to attract a very small fraction of that audience, the ones that love animals and want to make a difference for wildlife conservation.
When I started connecting all the dots it made good sense…. “if you build it, they will come”. I just needed a sound and sustainable business plan, plus a future hospitality partner for the second phase manor house. I came up with the double entendre name that was a good fit for Texas. There are few places outside of Africa where you can drink cold bottled beer and hang out with friendly real longnecks? A good friend (Paul Swen) helped me design an elegant giraffe logo and I was just retired from the Houston Zoo, with plenty of energy and passion for another project. That was 2015.
During the past five years I have built a nice ranch house, added two ponds for wildlife, built a better road, repaired fences and added 150 trees around the house. I live here with my yellow lab Drifter and we drive to Sarasota, FL. every 2-4 months to be with my significant other, Diane Ledder, and Drifter’s big brother, Cooper.
I trademarked the name and logo and created both a for-profit LLC and a non-profit, tax exempt conservation foundation. I have a great group of board members that have a diverse set of skills. You can learn more about them here. Every visit to Longneck Manor will help save animals in the wild as well as continue to improve the lives of all our resident Conservation Ambassadors.
We are now in Phase One of construction and will open for small group tours and overnights (in the Giraffe Suite) sometime in May or June 2021.
That’s how it all started. There are still many chapters to go so I hope you will ride along with us on this incredible journey.
Thanks to all my friends and colleagues that have helped and encouraged me along the way, I could not have done it without you.
Rick (October 2020)