Our History - St. Simons Land Trust

Our History


“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The words above are those of Margaret Mead and were quoted by Jeanne Kaufmann, one of the four founders of the St. Simons Land Trust, when recalling the early days of the Land Trust and why and how it was founded.  Those words continue to ring true today, although the group of committed people who support the Land Trust has grown exponentially across not just the island, but across the region.

St. Simons Island is one of 14 barrier islands on the Georgia coast. It is also one of four islands on the state’s southern coast known as the Golden Isles. Home to more than 12,000 full-time residents, and approximately the size of Manhattan, St. Simons is known for its stately live oaks, maritime forests, abundant salt and freshwater marshes, meandering creeks and rivers, and rich history. Spotted seatrout, redfish, flounder, and tarpon are bountiful in its creeks and marshes.  Just offshore is the calving ground for the North Atlantic right whale – one of the world’s most endangered large whale species. And once a year the island’s sandy dunes become nesting grounds for giant female sea turtles who travel thousands of miles to return to the very beaches where, decades earlier, they were born and where they lay their own eggs.  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 beauty, history, and uniqueness of this barrier island would continue to attract new residents, retirees, tourists, and businesses – and thus be impacted by high-density development – the St. Simons Land Trust was officially founded in 2000.  Jeanne Kaufmann (mentioned above) joined visionary community leaders Ben Slade III, Frances McCrary, and Jim Manning (right), who created a working board of directors.  These founding members tapped the organization’s first Executive Director, Catherine Main.  Ms. Main operated the Land Trust out of her home until 2001 when an office was opened on Frederica Road.

Since those early days, the St. Simons Land Trust has preserved nearly 1,100 upland acres, roughly 10% of the island’s total acreage.  Another nearly 137 acres are protected through conservation easements held by the Trust.  The first significant parcel of land protected by SSLT was forty marsh-front acres on Frederica Road that was donated by island native Mrs. Dorothy Gilbert and is now the site of the popular John Gilbert Nature Trail that was opened to the public in 2006.

Like 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 fee simple purchases of property.  Acquisitions of land are determined through a careful review process that ranks properties according to their environmental values, historic importance, threat of development, size and location, and other important criteria.

The success of the Land Trust can be directly linked to its strong membership base of nearly 1,000 households, including a core group of nearly 350 Live Oak Society members who contribute $1,000 or more annually and more than 20 Benefactors who contribute more than $10,000 each year.

The highly-successful Pennies for Preservation program is a community partners program involving lodging, restaurants, retailers, media, service providers, and tourist-related businesses. The patrons and clients of these local businesses donate a voluntary 1% of receipts and invoices, providing an additional stream of revenue that goes directly to land acquisitions.

Additionally, we have 12-month annual sponsors among the business community, who provide significant support to programs, conservation projects, and other operational needs of the Land Trust.

We also partner regularly with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife, The Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, Glynn County, colleges and universities, local public and private schools, and many local and national environmental organizations. See our full list of partners HERE.

The board and staff of the Land Trust work in partnership with one another and are guided by the organization’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan that has established important target areas for our work and prioritizes strategic goals that ensure the continued fulfilment of the Land Trust’s Mission.

The St. Simons Land Trust was first accredited by the national Land Trust Alliance in 2015 and was successfully re-accredited by the Alliance’s Land Trust Accreditation Commission in 2020.


“We’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by good people . . . it’s always about the people.”

— Ben Slade, Co-Founder of the St. Simons Land Trust



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