Dune habitat in historic Black community conserved

The accredited North Florida Land Trust recently paid tribute to MaVynee Betsch, an environmental advocate known as “The Beach Lady” for her efforts to protect Amelia Island’s American Beach.

By Kirsten Ferguson March 28

Betsch, a member of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, was the great-great-granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who founded American Beach in 1935 to give African Americans beach access during the days of segregation.

Betsch dedicated the last 25 years of her life to preserving American Beach and the Little NaNa Dune system, an important habitat for gopher tortoises and migrating birds. She posted signs to protect nesting sea turtles and encouraged residents to plant wildflowers to stabilize the land and provide butterfly habitat. Betsch was instrumental in securing the property’s addition to the National Park Service’s Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in 2004, one year before her death.

To honor Betsch’s legacy, NFLT purchased three parcels of land in the Little NaNa Dune system on what would have been her 86th birthday in January.

“We wanted to protect this historic community and its natural benefits for the good of the wildlife that depends on it and to protect the sense of place that rests in the memories of so many generations of families that vacationed in American Beach at a time when they were prohibited from beaches all across the country,” says Jim McCarthy, NFLT president. 

This article was originally posted on the Land Trust Alliance blog in July 2021.

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