The Weeks Bay Foundation is marking its 30th anniversary with a new executive director and plans to expand beyond Mobile and Baldwin counties. Connie Whitaker, an administrator with 10 years of nonprofit experience at the Alabama Coastal Foundation and Feeding the Gulf Coast, succeeds previous director Yael Girard, who resigned late last year and now serves as a consultant.
In late December, the board also advertised a Land Coordinator position, which separates duties previously assigned to the director and will give Whitaker more of an opportunity to increase public awareness and involvement in the foundation’s mission of protecting the area’s most sensitive land and water by purchasing property for preservation purposes and promoting environmental education.
“We’re the only accredited land trust in South Alabama and most of our work has been in the coastal counties and as organization continues to grow … the board opted to separate those two positions,” Whitaker explained last week.
The foundation currently manages 7,000 acres in conservation easements, but is on target to protect another 1,000 this year, she said. Two of its current holdings, the Rio Vista tract along Fish River south of Bohemian Park and the Rangeline tract along the western shore of Mobile Bay, are opening for hiking and kayaking as they continue to undergo restoration from previous logging activities and the introduction of invasive species.
“Up until recently, all the properties we have protected through conservation easements have not been very accessible to the public. As we acquire [new] properties there is more of a need for management plans and recreational plans and being very intentional about how we are growing,” she said.
In 2018, the foundation reported a total of $3.2 million worth of land held for conservation purposes, along with $2.1 million in investments. It hosts two major fundraisers each year — the Bald Eagle Bash in April and the Alabama Coastal BirdFest in October — but Whitaker said a new emphasis will be put on raising funds and acquiring property beyond its traditional foothold in Baldwin County.
The changes, which may include a rebranding and will be announced in full at the Bald Eagle Bash scheduled April 25, are in response to a survey widely circulated last year.
The responses indicated most people think we’re part of the reserve, and we certainly are, but in some ways we’re launching a new organization because we’ve had somewhat of an identity crisis and we want to educate the community more on exactly what we do,” she said. “We’ll try to do something more on a monthly basis to create awareness and engage the community by getting more people out to enjoy the environment. People involved with [the foundation] will have a more vested interest and we’ll be doing a lot more outreach.”
The Land Coordinator position will be responsible for working with the board to identify potential tracts for acquisition, as well as creating management plans, navigating deed and title work and negotiating closings. A full description of the job’s duties is available at weeksbay.org.
Tickets for the Bald Eagle Bash are available now for $25 each. It will have the same format as previous years, with various seafood vendors at the Tonsmeire Weeks Bay Resource Center and live music from the Underhill Family Orchestra.
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