BY DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Heading into the new year, the foundation that has promoted the conservation of unique habitats in Baldwin County has broadened its scope with its vision and a name change. What once was the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, which has been in existence for 30 years, is now the South Alabama Land Trust (SALT).
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Commissioner Chris Blankenship is thankful for the work of the group, past, present and future.
“The Weeks Bay Reserve is managed by the ADCNR State Lands Division,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, now SALT, has been a great partner to assist us with the acquisition and preservation of properties within the Weeks Bay Reserve boundary and in the watershed overall. I am glad to see them expand their scope to do good work in other areas of Coastal Alabama. I know they will continue to provide support services to protect and enhance the mission of not only the Weeks Bay Reserve but for coastal conservation overall.”
Ellis Allen, SALT’s Chairman of the Board, said the name change was appropriate for the group’s future.
“Historically, the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation started just as a friends group,” said Allen, who has been with the foundation for 25 years. “About a decade ago, we expanded our mission to more than a friends group and became an accredited land trust. With that change, we started holding some conservation easements. We started doing land monitoring. We did more than just managing a few pitcher plant bogs and a little watershed.
“This new change is kind of an expansion of our scope but not necessarily a change in mission. We will still be concerned with pitcher plant bogs, estuaries, marine invertebrates and water quality. But we will now have properties that we own outright or manage through conservation easements that have been granted to us.”
Allen said SALT manages property in south Baldwin County and on Dauphin Island and will soon hold a conservation easement in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
“Our scope has expanded, and our footprint has expanded, so the South Alabama Land Trust is more inclusive of that, rather than saying the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, which would imply only the watershed of Weeks Bay,” he said.
In contrast, the property SALT will manage in the Elberta area is mostly upland habitat.
“The man who gave that to us wanted to set an example for his grandchildren,” Allen said. “We will manage it for the preservation of watershed to make sure it’s not getting eroded, polluted, stripped or allowing unsustainable agriculture. It will be like we manage our other properties.”
One of the properties on Dauphin Island that SALT is associated with is the Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary, a popular attraction for birders from around the country who visit the property and take advantage of a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk that traverses the barrier island habitat.
SALT has recently been granted a conservation easement in the Gulf Shores area. The easement surrounds Oyster Bay and includes several hundred acres north of the Intracoastal Waterway. The property was acquired by the City of Gulf Shores with funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF).
The GEBF expenditures in Alabama are coordinated by ADCNR. “The Oyster Bay project will include installation of interpretive kiosks, walking paths and public access including kayak launches. It is a good project for Coastal Alabama. The conservation easement held by SALT will ensure this property will always be preserved,” said Commissioner Blankenship.