YARBROUGH COLUMN: St. Simon’s preservation important to all Georgians

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

When I go to my Great Reward (hoping it is not before I finish this column), if I don’t qualify for the Pearly Gates, I will take St. Simons Island as my backup choice. It is, after all, heaven on earth. And, thankfully, there are people trying to keep it that way.

Emily Ellison, executive director of the St. Simons Land Trust, tells me her organization is in the middle of a campaign to raise $5.5 million to preserve the few undeveloped acres still available on the island. Called The Canopy Campaign,  the group has a goal of raising $5.5 million and is off to a good start. A small group of conservation-minded supporters have pledged another $3 million to jumpstart the effort.

Ellison says, “We are using these gifts and pledges as a challenge. Every contribution made to the campaign will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to the  $3 million.”

Contributions can be mailed to PO Box 24615, St. Simons Island, GA 31522, or made online at sslt.org.

If  you don’t live on St. Simons, why should you care about the campaign? Well, for one thing, every inch of the Great State of Georgia is sacred soil to me and none more so than our coastline. To quote Woody Guthrie, this land is our land and we are blessed that a part of our land is the Golden Isles.

“The Georgia coast has become the most popular vacation destination not only for people living in the state but also in the region,” Ellison says.

“Surveys show that one of the top reasons people visit St. Simons is because of its natural beauty, the live oaks, the moss-shrouded maritime forests, the marshes, the streams and beaches” Amen to that.

Ellison adds, “The properties that the Land Trust has conserved over the past 20 years, and the ones that we are continuing to acquire, provide the greenspaces, the hiking trails, the environmental features that mean so much to people throughout the state.”

In 2018, the Land Trust launched Phase I of The Canopy Campaign. With a $4 million challenge grant from The Anschutz Foundation, more than $8 million was raised in less than three months. That successful campaign resulted in the protection of nearly 200 acres of environmentally and culturally significant undeveloped land and two important mid-island properties.

This time, the campaign is focused on three properties on the north end of St. Simons, contiguous with 608-acre Cannon’s Point Preserve, creating nearly 730 acres that will be protected in perpetuity. Another nearly 40-acre tract is between Cannon’s Point and the 258-acre Guale Preserve that the Land Trust completed purchasing in 2018.

The three parcels closest to Cannon’s Point have been in the same family for a number of years and were once part of the Oatland Plantation. Most recently the nearly 120 acres were privately owned.

“It is from the heirs that we are buying the properties,” Ellison says. “Another nearly 38-acre tract has been owned by a Texas company. Their intent was to sell to a developer. More than 100 homes could have been built on this tract.” Just what we need. More traffic.

Ellison says, “One of our goals in this campaign is to provide funds for the long-term management of the more than 1,100 acres in our trust. This is one of our most important strategic priorities.”

As for the future, Ellison says there is still some undeveloped land left on St. Simons Island, “but there isn’t much of it.”

Whatever the reason, it is important that while we deal with matters of quantity, we not forget the quality of life that makes our state so special. That includes preserving the natural beauty and the fragile ecosystem of St. Simons Island.  My thanks to the St. Simons Land Trust for their unstinting efforts to protect and to keep holy my heaven on earth.