Fort Frederica National Monument’s boundaries have increased in recent months thanks to a nearly fifteen-year partnership with the Saint Simons Land Trust. As background, in 2007 Fort Frederica’s leadership was approached about the Land Trust purchasing a roughly twenty-acre parcel of undeveloped land owned by the Sea Island Company on the northern boundary of the national monument. The intent of the initial proposal was that the Land Trust would acquire and hold the property until legislation could be passed in the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States, allowing the National Park Service to subsequently purchase the property from the Land Trust.
In March of 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (S.47). This Act allowed the National Park Service to acquire the 20.852 acres that the Saint Simons Land Trust had been holding. In February 2020, the sale of the Northern Marsh Tract to the NPS was completed.
These culturally and environmentally significant acres, known as the Northern Marsh Tract, have now officially become a part of St. Simons’ Fort Frederica National Monument that is owned and managed by the National Park Service.
“It took as many dedicated people as it did years to bring this long-standing joint venture to its valuable conclusion,” said Emily Ellison, executive director of the St. Simons Land Trust. “The real heroes in this public/private partnership are U.S. Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA-01)) and his staff, especially Hart Thompson, legislative assistant in Congressman Carter’s office; Jack Overstreet in former Senator Johnny Isakson’s office; Gary Ingram and Joe Cook, area superintendent and realty specialist land resources division, respectively, of the National Park Service; representatives of Glynn County government; Ben Slade, the Land Trust’s co-founder and former executive director, Sue Tuttle, our finance and stewardship director, and Don Myers, a former board member. It was Don who was particularly tenacious in keeping the issue in front of the people who could help make this acquisition possible.”
“This is wonderful news,” said First District Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, who represents the district that includes St. Simons Island. “I am thrilled this project is finally across the finish line. I have been working on this project since I was elected to Congress, and Congressman Jack Kingston worked on it even before me. This legislation will preserve the history and legacy of this landmark for Georgians and visitors for many generations to come. I thank the St. Simons Land Trust and all who worked diligently for years to make this possible.”
Celebrations for transfer of the property from the Land Trust to the National Park Service were delayed because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, hosted by the Friends of Fort Frederica, is being planned for fall 2020.
“Thanks to the Saint Simons Land Trust this property was saved from development and will now become a place where visitors from all over the world will be able to enjoy the natural beauty and learn the history lessons of Saint Simons Island,” says Gary Ingram, superintendent, Fort Frederica National Monument and Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The Northern Marsh Tract consists of 20.852 acres of upland and marsh located off West Point Drive in the northwest section of St. Simons Island. The forested upland is contiguous with the north boundary of the Fort Frederica National Monument and was the site of the garden plot for the 18th Century British settlement.
At the time the Land Trust purchased the property in 2007 from the Sea Island Company, the upland portion of the property contained 35 residential lot entitlements, with approximately half fronting the adjacent marsh. In addition, most of the home sites would have been visible from the public areas of Fort Frederica and an important view shed would have been destroyed as well as the historical significance of the property.
The St. Simons Land Trust therefore acted quickly to purchase and hold the property until authority could be obtained and funding could be secured for the National Park Service to purchase it from the Land Trust.
“It wasn’t expected that the Land Trust would be holding the property for so many years,” added Susan Shipman, board chair of the Land Trust, “but we’re thrilled that these twenty acres have been protected since 2007 and are now in the hands of the National Park Service and will be part of the Fort Frederica National Monument forever.”
Currently, Fort Frederica National Monument is in the planning stages of developing nature trails with “wayside exhibits” and interpretive signage that will help tell the story of those who once lived and worked on the property, including Native Americans. Further archaeological research will also take place on the site.