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On October 4 at the Mason Murer Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, the Georgia Conservancy honored Ben Slade III, executive director of the St. Simons Land Trust, at its annual gala, ecoBenefête. Slade was the 20th recipient of the Conservancy's Distinguished Conservationist award.  The award honors the remarkable achievements of a great Georgian who improves our lives through the protection of our environment. Past recipients of the award include Will Harris III, Cody Laird, Jim Kennedy and Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta).

Over 300 of Georgia's most influential community leaders and environmental advocates and businesses joined the Conservancy in recognizing Slade for his dedication to the conservation of the natural and cultural treasures of St. Simons Island and its surrounding salt marsh.  Proceeds from the evening will go to support the Georgia Conservancy's mission to protect and conserve Georgia's land and water

For Ben Slade, the conservation of St. Simons Island’s most scenic and ecologically-important sanctuaries has been a lifelong goal.  Born and raised on Georgia’s coast, the marsh, hammocks and tidal creeks that define the low country were Ben’s playground – a place for recreation and inspiration. Throughout his career as businessman, banker and community leader in Glynn County, Ben remained an advocate for the coastal county’s natural environment.  In 2000, seeing the need to fight sprawl and overdevelopment on St. Simons Island, Ben helped found the St. Simons Land Trust. He served as the board’s first chairman and currently serves as the land trust’s executive director.  Through his leadership, Ben has helped guide the St. Simons Land Trust from a small, homegrown organization to one that boasts a membership of more than 1,200 households.

One of the St. Simons Land Trust’s most recent victories came with the purchase of 604-acre Cannon’s Point. Championed from start to finish by Ben, the acquisition quadrupled the area of protected land on St. Simons. Located at the northern tip of the island, Cannon’s Point has more than six miles of salt marsh, tidal creek and river shore line and is the last intact maritime forest on the island. The property, which will open later this year, will be managed as a public preserve that will include trails for hiking and biking, launch points for canoes and kayaks, and educational opportunities for visitors. As a land trust, the organization works with property owners to preserve critical habitat through conservation easements, donations and purchases. Since its founding, the St. Simons Land Trust has protected 776 acres on the island. Much of the land that the St. Simons Land Trust has preserved is open, or will soon be open, to the public and its use is outlined in the Greenprint, the organization’s guide for future activities.

"Much of the maritime forest along the Georgia Coast is not easily accessible to most people - Sapelo, Cumberland, Ossabaw islands, for example," says Ben Slade. "With Cannon’s Point on St. Simons, an island that is easy to get to, we think it will be a living laboratory for residents and visitors who want to experience a true maritime forest."

“Ben talked about raising his children on St. Simons and the hope that they would experience the wild aspect of the island and the natural beauty,” says Susan Shipman, Board Chair of the St. Simons Land Trust. “I know he certainly had that as a vision early on when he and the others founded the Land Trust, and he’s maintained and remained true to that vision since day one.”

Slade has made the preservation of Georgia's most visited barrier island one of the foremost goals of his life.  His vision is of an island whose natural and cultural heritage can be enjoyed by its residents and visitors. The Georgia Conservancy applauds his successful career as a conservationist with the St. Simons Land Trust and is honored to have awarded him the Distinguished Conservationist award at ecoBenefête on October 4.

Thank you to Southwire, St. Simons Land Trust, Creative Outhouse and Crawford Media for video production.

See photos from ecoBenefête 2013.

Read about St. Simons Land Trust's 2012 victory in preserving Cannon's Point.