One Hundred Miles 100:Legacy Leaders
Honoring the visionary leaders, past and present, who have made a lasting and significant impact on our Georgia coast
Dr. Charles Belin is an expert in marsh ecology and an infectious educator. Now retired from his career at Armstrong State University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Belin has dedicated much of his time and energy to sharing the beauty and productivity of Georgia’s marshlands with community members young and old. His nature hikes through the Savannah area, and in marshes surrounding Wormsloe Plantation provide a fascinating look into the plant and animal life that call our coast home. He is also a staunch advocate for Georgia’s coast, having served on the board of directors for both the Savannah Riverkeeper and the Center for a Sustainable Coast. Charlie’s good work continues today, and the legacy he’s left for his students, Georgia’s marshlands, and all who love our coast will continue to make an impact for generations to come.
Sinkey Boone (1937 – 2010), a Georgia shrimper, character, and local legend, was born in Tattnall County. Coming from a long line of shrimp fishermen, Sinkey invented the fishing devices that would become known as the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). In 1968, when he created his original Georgia Jumper, Sinkey’s intention was to reduce cannonball jellyfish in his nets. But he soon discovered a fantastic and unexpected environmental benefit: the Georgia Jumper helped sea turtles escape! TEDs are now used all over the world where shrimp trawlers and sea turtles interact, and when used properly, thousands of turtles are saved. Throughout his lifetime, Sinkey continued to test even bigger and better designs, including TEDs with larger openings that help leatherbacks and other turtles to escape more easily. For his many contributions, the International Sea Turtle Society posthumously awarded him its Sea Turtle Champion award in 2011. Today, Sinkey’s legacy is a reminder that successful conservation often relies on unconventional allies: his simple, smart invention helped both fishermen and turtles at a time when lines were drawn and many people were seeing in stark black and white.
The R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation is a private charitable foundation established in 1959 by Mr. R. Howard Dobbs, Jr., a legendary business and civic leader in metropolitan Atlanta area. Since the late 1990s, the Foundation has been a leading investor in conservation on Georgia’s 100-mile coast by supporting careful and coordinated planning to protect against the incremental loss of ecological and cultural value by poorly-planned development. Steadfast in its commitment to land conservation and watershed protection, the Foundation continues to honor the life and legacy of Mr. Dobbs through its support of coastal advocacy organizations and many initiatives (including living shoreline projects). Recently, they played an instrumental role in the launch of Stewards of Coastal Georgia, a collaborative group of donors with a passion for coastal conservation who are dedicated to raising awareness and resources for preserving Georgia’s beloved coast. Through its visionary leadership, the Dobbs Foundation is creating a legacy for which present and future generations of coastal Georgians will be proud.
The Knobloch Family Foundation strives to preserve natural ecosystems and their critical importance to the economic strength and the health of all Americans. In Georgia, they have been closely involved with land conservation. Over the years, Knobloch played a key role in the preservation of many important properties in coastal Georgia, including 6,277 acres along the Altamaha River in Wayne County and the historic and ecologically valuable Ebenezer Crossing. It is said that Theodore Roosevelt’s famous words: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired, in value” are the inspiration for the establishment of the Knobloch Family Foundation. Though its patriarch, Carl Knobloch, passed away on November 22, 2016, the foundation’s good work continues. Its instrumental support of and investments in conservation have created a legacy that will continue in perpetuity.
Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) has been acknowledged as one of the finest Southern poets produced by the South in the nineteenth century. His melodic celebrations of Georgia’s terrain are among his most widely read poems. He is most noted for his experimental musical renderings of Georgia’s fields, rivers, and shores and found his purest voice in his iconic The Marshes of Glynn. The poem was inspired by his visits to Brunswick and celebrates our coast’s beloved salt marshes while capturing a sense of patience and common decency. The poem evokes the religious qualities of the natural world and the reverence coastal Georgians still feel for this landscape. “Reverend Marsh, low-couched along the sea, / Old chemist, rapt in alchemy, Distilling silence,–lo.” So treasured are Lanier’s writings that Golden Islanders have named roads, a football stadium, and a bridge in his honor.
Dr. Eugene Odum (1913 – 2002) has been called the “father of modern ecology.” As a professor at the University of Georgia, he led the way for the study of nature in terms of ecosystems, rather than individually functioning units. In the late 1960s, when developers and a mining firm threatened the survival of Georgia’s coastal marshes, Dr. Odum was instrumental in educating citizens about their economic value and importance. With the support of citizens, students, and activists, Odum, Jane Yarn, Reid Harris, and others succeeded in persuading the Georgia legislature to pass the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act of 1970. In later life, Odum put the principles of ecosystem ecology into the service of conservation, and in 1998 detailed his ideas in the book Ecological Vignettes: Ecological Approaches to Dealing with Human Predicaments. Today, his legacy continues through the innovative research conducted at the institutions he founded, including the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, and the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology.
Wendy Paulson and Henry “Hank” Paulson, Jr. are longtime conservationists involved in important projects around the globe. But with a special place in their heart for coastal Georgia, they are actively working to protect it. They recently placed Little St. Simons Island, identified as high priority coastal conservation land in Georgia, under a permanent conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy. And in early 2010, while visiting LSSI, they learned of the acquisition of a 608-acre piece of land, by Wells Fargo. “We lamented the pace of development on St. Simons and feared for the uncertain future of Cannon’s Point.” Wendy and Hank went on to spearhead an effort with the St. Simons Land Trust to protect the property and provide a place for the public to experience the beauty of a natural coastal Georgia landscape. The impact the Paulsons have made can be seen across nearly every square inch of our coast – from the acquisition and preservation of important natural areas to their dedicated support of coastal conservation organizations. For all of us who want our children and grandchildren to know and love our coast as much as we do, we owe Wendy and Hank Paulson a debt of gratitude.
Over the years, the Richards Family has provided significant personal support for coastal Georgia. Roy Richards, Jr, the board chair at One Hundred Miles, was instrumental in forming the Chattahoochee River Greenway Project, a near-continuous park that stretches for 180 miles on both sides of the river. In less than two years, he helped bring the project from concept to reality. Roy and his sister, Laura, both serve together on the National Board of The Trust For Public Land. Active in the creation of the Carrollton Greenbelt project near her home (a model for the entire state), Laura has extensive knowledge and a deep passion for protecting coastal Georgia’s land. And Lee Richards served as the chairman of the committee to raise the funds necessary for the St. Simons Island Land Trust to preserve Cannon’s Point, a 600-acre property at the north end of St. Simons Island. All three Richards share a conservation ethic instilled by their mother Alice, lessons that they pass on to their own children and all who know them through their investments, actions, and voice.
Just shy of 104 years old (she shares a birthdate, January 17th, with Benjamin Franklin, though she likes to remind people he’s much older than she is), Sandy West is as inspiring as ever. Though she recently left the island, she has been beloved for years as the “matriarch of Ossabaw Island.” Sandy and her family inherited the remote barrier island in 1924. In its prime, she ensured the island thrived as an artistic and scholarly retreat, hosting such luminaries as composer Aaron Copland, writers Annie Dillard and Margaret Atwood, and scientist Eugene Odum. Later, when she could have sold the island to the highest bidder – potentially changing our coast as we know it – Sandy turned everyone away until an agreement could be reached to protect the island forever. Under her stewardship, she sold the island to the State of Georgia to be used for scientific and cultural research and environmental preservation. Sandy recalls what she said to then-Governor Jimmy Carter, “Ossabaw is a miracle. It’s not only an ecological miracle, but it’s powerful and it’s just beyond price. It simply cannot be ruined.”
When we look around coastal Georgia’s protected barrier islands and ample stretches of salt marsh, it’s easy to take for granted the hard work that has gone into preserving these amazing landscapes over the years. But the coast we know and love today is in no small part the result of tireless efforts by pioneering conservationists like Jane Yarn (1924 – 1995). Jane helped save thousands of acres of Georgia barrier islands and marshland from development, created river recreation areas in inland Georgia, and played a role in founding the Nature Conservancy and several other conservation groups in Georgia. Thanks to her dedication, the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act was passed in 1970 and remains in effect to this day. In recognition her integral role in saving our state’s natural treasures, Yarn was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement in 2009. Said former Georgia senator and Governor Zell Miller, “No other single individual has done as much for conservation in Georgia as Jane Yarn.”
Banner photo courtesy of Benjamin Galland