Long-term Land: A Tale of Two Conservation Projects

As many prepared for Christmas and the new year, the Weeks Bay Foundation was busy bringing two big land projects to closing. These two properties are very different, but they both border important waterways, and their conservation means those waterways will also be protected.

Owens Bayou: Between the heavily developed GlenLakes Country Club and the tidal waters of Wolf Bay in south Baldwin County, runs Owens Bayou. This small tributary carries water from Muriel Lake and the adjacent home sites out to the bay. Along the way, the channel widens and meanders. It slowly moves through the wooded wetlands south of County Road 12. During that time, it has the chance to deposit sediment, pollutants, and excess nutrients. If the land surrounding Owens Bayou were to be developed, the waters would move more swiftly, lessening the chance of filtration and increasing the sediment and other pollutants reaching Wolf Bay.

With the protection of 42 acres along the bayou, this is no longer a concern. The landowner, 68 Ventures, has donated the property for conservation. With their vision and financial support, the Weeks Bay Foundation now owns the Owens Bayou Tract and will protect it forever. The beautiful ferns, the gum trees, the crawfish burrows, and even the snakes will live without disruption!

Williams Family Preserve: In early 2016, the Weeks Bay Foundation began talking with Mr. Ed Williams Jr. about protecting his family’s land at the mouth of Weeks Bay. This property, directly across from the Pelican Point boat and fishing access had been a priority for preservation for more than 30 years.

The Williams family was open to the idea of protecting the property and the Foundation had the opportunity to submit the property for funding from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement. Over the next three years, the Williams family patiently waited for the project to be selected for NRDA (Natural Resource Damage Assessment) funding and passed through a number of reviews and public comment meetings. Fortunately, our partners at the Weeks Bay Reserve were able to bring nearly $500,000 in NOAA matching funds to help move the project along.

On December 30, the purchase of the property closed, putting 165 acres of critical coastal habitat into conservation. The property contains a protected tidal stream with documented cases of Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin). It has acres of salt marsh, which serve as feeding and breeding ground for numerous wading and shore bird species. This land is now a protected Alabama State Lands property that will be maintained for these conservation values. It is also a lasting legacy for the Williams family.

Projects of this magnitude are impossible without patient landowners and supportive partners. It would have been easy for the transaction to fail at a thousands different points along the process. However, everyone involved knew that the preservation of this important habitat was worth compromise, communication, and commitment. We thank the Weeks Bay Reserve, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the NRDA Trustee Implementation Group for their partnership and support. Lastly, we thank the Williams family for trusting the process and sticking with us through nearly four years of deliberation.


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