It’s January, so that must mean the best backyard party on St. Simons Island is about to happen.
The St. Simons Land Trust Oyster Roast will be from 5-8 p.m. Jan. 14 at Gascoigne Bluff Park with its mighty oaks, ethereal Spanish moss and the Frederica River as the backdrop for the annual event. Tickets are $75 each.
Now in its 17th year, the oyster roast serves up tons of freshly roasted oysters, along with selections from local chefs who prepare and donate favorite dishes including Low Country boil, barbecue and an array of side dishes and desserts.
Judie Mattie, the chair for this year’s event, is overseeing a volunteer and donor corps of more than 130 people.
The St. Simons Land Trust was founded to preserve the natural and scenic character of St. Simons Island.
David Pope, executive director of the land trust, said the organization has protected more than 840 acres since its inception in 2000.
Most recently, significant acquisitions include Cannon’s Point Preserve, a 608-acre wilderness tract off Lawrence Road on the island’s north end. The purchase was closed in 2012, after a $25 million fundraising effort led by Hank and Wendy Paulson and Ada Lee and Pete Correll. According to its website, the land trust will manage the property as a publicly accessible wilderness preserve that will be protected by a conservation easement.
The property is full of points of archeological and historical interest, including Native American shell rings and middens dating back to 2,500 B.C.E. It was also the site of the plantation of John Couper, and ruins of the plantation home and outbuildings remain. Many descendants of the Gullah Geechee can also trace their ancestry back to the site.
Plans for the Cannon’s Point parcel going forward include expanding amenities for the public, which already include two 20-foot observation towers, a kayak launch, many miles of trails and interpretive signs at some of the historic sites.
“In 2016, 3,900 folks visited Cannon’s Point to explore and learn about St. Simons’ natural and cultural histories,” Pope said. “Additionally, we have funding for a coastal ecology field lab that science researchers and students will be able to use, and we’re working to install a restroom facility, but this has proven to be challenging. We hope to get these projects completed in 2017.”
Unlike other events of this magnitude, fundraising is not really the focus of the oyster roast, Pope said.
“Many of the goods and services for the oyster roast are donated and we hope to raise money, but that’s not really our principal goal,” he said. “Every year, our goal is to raise awareness for the St. Simons Land Trust’s mission and vision, and show our appreciation to this community for its support of our work on the island.
“This year, a portion of the funds raised at the event will be used to replant trees on land trust properties affected by Hurricane Matthew.”
Currently, the land trust is in the middle of a large campaign to acquire a 260-acre portion of Musgrove Plantation.
Musgrove, a nonprofit retreat and conference center operated by The Brenn Foundation, is situated on 600-acres.
It was founded in 1938 by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco heir and philanthropist Nancy Susan Reynolds, and was also the site of former President Jimmy Carter’s first cabinet meeting held prior to his inauguration in 1977.
The land trust is not acquiring the conference and retreat center, but rather 260 acres of land that includes more than 200 acres of maritime forest, rare plants and Native American shell middens.
Together with the Cannon’s Point property, the Musgrove acquisition will make up the north and south ends of a three-mile wilderness corridor that features undeveloped shorelines, pristine maritime forest and a significant amount of wildlife, according to the land trust’s website.
Plans for the Musgrove site include nature trails, picnic tables, a ramp for small boats and a fishing platform.
The campaign to acquire Musgrove is the focal point of the land trust this year.
“In 2017, we are going to be working hard to complete this campaign and will need the community’s continued support,” he said. “We’re also looking at some ideas to protect the areas between Musgrove and Cannon’s Point on the north end of St. Simons Island.
“On the south end, we will be assessing opportunities to protect smaller, more iconic parcels along Frederica Road and other highly visible areas.”
For more information about tickets to the oyster roast or membership in the St. Simons Land Trust, call 638-9109.