Amelia Island's Treasured Trees: A Massive Oak, Downtown Fernandina Beach
Amelia Island’s Treasured Trees: A Massive Oak, Downtown Fernandina Beach

Local Conservation Organizations

As we celebrate both Earth Day and Arbor Day this week, the timing seems perfect to feature a local conservation collaboration, the Amelia Island Conservation Network (AICN). Even more timely, considering recent events. The development activity on Amelia Island of recent years, plus large new projects now being proposed, and zoning issues creating controversy, have been the talk of the town.

Protection & Strategic Action

According to the Amelia Island Conservation Network’s website, the collaboration is “committed to developing highly-coordinated conservation and preservation movements focused on protecting Amelia Island and surrounding areas’ natural resources, marine, ocean, and wildlife. AICN intends to be “a facilitator of strategic action and a constant conservation presence in the community. “

Rising Tide of Development Discontent

The building boom of the past several years has not gone unnoticed by local residents. More discussion is happening and questions being raised about how population and tourism growth (and commensurate development activity) is impacting this ecologically-sensitive barrier island.

Conservation & Preservation

During this week celebrating Earth’s environment and an appreciation of trees, we also reflect here on the legacy of a former local resident of American Beach. She was an early advocate for land preservation on Amelia Island, and successfully helped preserve an 8-acre dune system.

Preserved Dune "Nana" at American Beach, Legacy of MaVynee Betsch, "The Beach Lady"
Preserved Dune “Nana” at American Beach, Legacy of MaVynee Betsch, “The Beach Lady”

Legacy of “The Beach Lady”

An example of how dedication and determination can make a difference is the late MaVynee Betsch, known as “The Beach Lady.” She was a local historian, activist and environmentalist who passed away in 2005. Pictured here is a sand dune on Amelia Island dubbed “Nana,” said to be the tallest in the state of Florida. Located within Amelia Island’s historic American Beach, this dune’s preservation is the legacy of “The Beach Lady,” the most vocal advocate for its protection.

A Preservation Success Story

The area encompassing this beautiful sand dune in American Beach was at one time owned by the Amelia Island Plantation, when Jack B. Healan, Jr. was President of this south end resort community. However, the pleas of American Beach resident, MaVynee Betsch, and her desire to preserve the dune for posterity, were heard.

About 15 years ago, the “Nana” sand dune system (8.5 acres), was donated by the resort in her honor, to the National Park Service. “Nana” is now part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. Learn more about MaVynee Betsch, “The Sands of Time,” and the history of American Beach (past article about the opening of the American Beach Museum).

Treasured Trees: A Magnificent Oak Tree, Downtown Fernandina Beach image
Treasured Trees: A Magnificent Oak Tree, Downtown Fernandina Beach

In recent years, new groups have sprouted, including the Amelia Tree Conservancy and the Amelia Island Beach and Marine Life Conservancy (two of the ten founding members of the Amelia Island Conservation Network).

“Conserve Amelia Now” is a group of citizens concerned with the rapid pace of Amelia Island development, forming around the time of Fernandina’s Amelia Bluff controversy.

Amelia Island’s South End Parcel

Two sizeable development projects have come into public view in recent months drawing lots of local attention. A developer, Steve Leggett, is eyeing a significant seashore parcel — around 50 acres — on Amelia Island’s south end for a potential new luxury resort and condos. The potential development of the south end acreage (A.K.A., the Riverstone parcel), is a very big deal. Located adjacent to Amelia Island State Park, it’s a natural area of maritime forest, Amelia Island’s last large undeveloped oceanfront parcel.

Developer Conducting Due Diligence, 55-Acre Amelia Island Oceanfront Parcel
Developer Conducting Due Diligence, 50-Acre Amelia Island Oceanfront Parcel

Note that the same developer is also proposing to build another new hotel near the Amelia River. The potential site is located on city-owned property at the Amelia River Golf Club (located at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport). Also envisioned for the property are luxury garages and other structures including a clubhouse and a road course/testing track, aimed at a target market of automobile enthusiasts.

Red Outline Marks Amelia River Golf Club Property (Developer Is Interested in Building Hotel On Site)
Red Outline Marks Amelia River Golf Club Property (Developer Interested in Building Hotel On Site)

Nassau County Sierra Club

While there are newer preservation and conservation initiatives and groups, attempting to protect Amelia Island’s natural environment is not a new effort. There are long-established conservation and environmental advocates, such as the local Sierra Club of Nassau County, that have been actively involved for many decades. For example, their efforts to save Crane Island from development was a long, 30-year-plus saga, but a battle lost.

Connect With Conservation Network

Interested in learning more about local initiatives and regional issues? See the Amelia Island Conservation Network website for further information on various groups, with links to the founding members. These include Nassau’s Sierra Club, Amelia Tree Conservancy, Keep Nassau Beautiful, Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, Wild Amelia, and the St. Marys Riverkeeper.