Interview of the Week: Emily Ellison
Emily is the Executive Director of the St. Simons Land Trust on Georgia’s famed St. Simons Island.
ODP: We’ve talked before about why land trusts are an important part of conservation. What is something that SSLT has accomplished this year that exceeded all of your expectations?
EE: This year, the St. Simons Land Trust celebrated the fifth anniversary of the public opening of Cannon’s Point Preserve, a 608-acre wilderness on the island’s north end. So many people participated in the scheduled presentations on that rainy, windy day in October when we celebrated this milestone. Under cover of umbrellas and rainslickers, adults and children visited the living shoreline, the coastal ecology lab, and the sites of our maritime forest restoration project. It was a wonderful reflection of the community support that enabled SSLT to purchase this extraordinary property and commit to protecting it in perpetuity.
ODP: What’s the most challenging aspect of managing a land trust?
EE: Preparing well for the future. It’s wonderful when we can acquire a parcel of land that would have ended up as a high-density development project, especially when the property has significant environmental values, including irreplaceable habitat, wetlands, maritime forests, and other features. But we also need to have a forward thinking perspective – one that includes ensuring resources for the long-term management of these properties – so that those who come after us will not be left with acreage that they cannot afford to maintain.
ODP: What are some of the big and small things that SSLT is looking to accomplish in 2020 and why should folks in Georgia and beyond be attuned to your work?
EE: Next year will be the St. Simons Land Trust’s 20th anniversary. There is much to celebrate in terms of what the organization and the community have done together to help save the island from loss of irreplaceable land and historic and archeological features. But in 2020, again hoping to have a long-term view rather than short-sighted one, we’ll also be looking to and preparing for the NEXT twenty years. We’ll be increasing our emphasis on environmental education, outreach, and working with our neighbors and partners to nurture a culture of conservation on St. Simons. It’s not just this one small barrier island that’s at stake, however. As we face increasing sea level-rise and environmental threats to waterways and habitat, what happens on Georgia’s coast impacts the entire state just as what occurs along the eastern seaboard impacts the entire region.
ODP: How did your interest in conservation develop?
EE: My father was an avid hiker, camper, and outdoorsman, and both my parents were gardeners. The most cherished moments of my childhood were spent outside with one or both of them and are related to the woodlands, streams, and coasts of the south. Dad was also passionate about the history and culture of Native Americans. The tribes of North America were the original conservationists. My interest in conservation all began there, hiking with my father, having him read to me about those who walked the land hundreds and thousands of years before us, the belief that there was a spiritual – almost holy – connection to the earth.
ODP: What gives you hope for the future of conservation?
EE: My daughter, my son-in-law, and their generation. The young people who I am privileged to work with at the Land Trust and across coastal Georgia. They are devoted and thoughtful stewards of the land, who know that time is of the essence. They are the future, and they fill me with hope.