January 13, 2021
The nonprofit is asking donors to help pay back a loan acquired to purchase the properties

North Florida Land Trust is now the owner of three parcels of land in historic American Beach that make up a portion of the Little NaNa Dune system. The nonprofit land conservation organization closed on the properties today, a date that was chosen to honor the legacy of MaVynee Betsch, known as “The Beach Lady,” who would have been 86 on Jan.13. Betsch was a champion for the preservation of American Beach and NFLT purchased the properties to make sure they would remain free from development to protect the historic community and its natural landscape. NFLT financed the purchase price of $1.255 million and is now asking donors to contribute to help pay back the loan.

“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 this country. We chose this day to honor the Beach Lady with a continuation of her defense of the land,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “We typically fundraise before the purchase but this situation required us to close on the property within 90 days. We now have one year to raise the money to pay off the loan. We are asking foundations, businesses, government entities and individuals to donate.”

NFLT is raising money through its Amelia Forever Campaign which was created in 2019 to preserve the remaining natural spaces on Amelia Island. Donations can be made at www.nflt.org/ameliaforever or by check to North Florida Land Trust with the memo: Amelia Forever and mailed to 843 W Monroe Street, Jacksonville FL 32202. For more information about giving, contact the NFLT office at 904-479-1967 or info@nflt.org. The NDN Companies and Manzie and Drake Land Surveying donated their services to facilitate the transaction.

Little NaNa Dune is an important habitat for gopher tortoises and migrating birds. It is part of the system that includes NaNa dune, the tallest dune in Florida. NaNa Dune was added to the National Park Service’s Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in 2004 largely due to the efforts of Betsch. Betsch, who died in 2005, is a descendent of American Beach’s founder and dedicated the last 25 years of her life to the preservation of the natural integrity of the historic Black community. She named the NaNa Dune and championed the efforts to post signs to protect nesting sea turtles. She also encouraged American Beach residents to plant wildflowers on vacant lots to stabilize the land and provide a habitat for butterflies.

Abraham Lincoln Lewis, president of Afro-American Life Insurance Company, bought 33 acres of shorefront property on Amelia Island in 1935 to give African Americans access to a beach during the days of segregation. He made two additional land purchases over the next 11 years to bring the total acreage of American Beach to 216 and offered parcels for sale to the Black community. American Beach was a popular tourist destination for African Americans for many years. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act, tourism in the area declined. In 2002, the original beach property was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the American Beach Museum opened in 2014.

The nonprofit Friends of American Beach, community leaders in American Beach and the greater Amelia Island communities, and friends and family of Betsch have been leading the charge for revitalization in the area. NFLT’s work to preserve the Little NaNa Dune is another step forward to protecting and preserving the ecology and cultural heritage of American Beach.

About North Florida Land Trust

North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to protect the natural resources, historic places and working lands (farms and ranches) throughout north Florida. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements.  NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations.