St. Simons Island is one of four islands on the southern coast of Georgia known as the Golden Isles. Home to more than 12,000 full-time residents, St. Simons is known for its stately live oaks, abundant salt and fresh water marshes, meandering creeks and rivers, and rich history. Spotted seatrout, redfish, flounder and tarpon are bountiful in the creeks and near shore waters. And, just offshore is the calving ground for the North Atlantic right whale - one of the world's most endangered large whale species. Not surprisingly, St. Simons is also a favorite destination for vacationers.
Like so many coastal areas, St. Simons experienced a population boom in the 1990s. Recognizing that the uniqueness of this barrier island would continue to attract new residents and thus be heavily impacted by development, the St. Simons Land Trust was born. Recognition is given to the vision of local leaders such as Ben Slade III, Frances McCrary, and Jim and Jeannie Manning who were the Land Trust's founding members, and the organization's first Executive Director, Catherine Main, who operated the Land Trust out of her home until 2001 when an office was opened on Frederica Road.
The St. Simons Land Trust has become a community institution entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility: to protect our scenic and historic treasures and to preserve the beauty and charm of our island for generations to come.
Since those early days, the Land Trust has preserved more than 1,000 acres (and another 200 acres in a nearby county). We also hold over 300 acres in conservation easements. The first parcel of land protected was the Gilbert property on Frederica Road, now the site of the popular John Gilbert Nature Trail which was opened to the public in 2006.
Like more than 1,600 land trusts across the country, the SSLT works with willing property owners to preserve their land using tools that include: conservation easements, donations of land and outright purchases of land through tax advantaged "bargain sales." We are guided in our work by our most recent strategic plan for land conservation on the island that has established target areas for our work and priorities for transactions.
The success of the Land Trust can be directly linked to its strong membership base of more than 1,200 households, with core group of over 350 Live Oak Society members who contribute $1,000 or more each year and nearly 30 Benefactors who contribute more than $10,000 each year to help the Land Trust achieve its mission. This, coupled with the Community Partners Program involving lodging, restaurant and tourist-related businesses, provides the income base for the Land Trust to operate and undertake conservation projects. Less than 15% of our total income is used for operations and stewardship of land holdings leaving most Land Trust income for project related work. The Land Trust has been able to leverage donor contributions effectively by taking advantage of an array of federal, state and county funds to help complete conservation transactions.
The St. Simons Land Trust was accredited in 2014.