Putting Up Preserves
They say you can take a girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl. This is definitely true for Ann Bluntzer, whose small-town country upbringing is the rock-solid foundation of her success. Ann is the Executive Director of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the land and protecting the natural environment of Beaufort County.
I met up with Ann at the home of Francis Worthy in South Forest Beach on Hilton Head Island to get a first-hand look at the work of the Open Land Trust. There is 30 acres of oceanfront property that has recently been placed into the Trust that sprawls from the Marriott Grand Ocean south, beyond Juniper Lane. This land is an undeveloped strip between the current oceanfront properties and the beach dunes. This is a significant addition for the Open Land Trust because of the environmental ramifications this particular parcel has. Zoned for 45 tightly spaced houses, these 30 acres will now be protected from development forever by placing it in the Trust. Plus, property owners will receive significant tax-relief with the land now having a different designation and federal government protection. "It's a win-win for every one," Ann explained. In fact, this strip of Hilton Head Island beach has more sea turtle nests than any other area, as well as minimized erosion. While other beaches are in need of renourishment, this stretch has actually experienced accretion, largely because of this 30-acre land barrier.
In all, the Beaufort County Open Land Trust owns 60 pieces of property and protects 15,000 acres throughout the county. Some of the more notable parcels include the Bluffton Oyster Factory, which is significant to Bluffton's historic presence; the Bay Street Bluffs in Beaufort, which has been a very visual and high-impact project; and 500 acres on Lemon Island. "Lemon Island is ecologically a critical area that, if left unprotected, could have been devastating, especially to our water quality which affects everyone," Ann explained.
Preserving the land is not a new phenomenon for Ann. She grew up on a farm in the small town of Glen Rose, Texas with her mother and two sisters. A self-professed "horse girl", she attributes much of her philosophies and drive to her mother, Helen, and her simple childhood. "We didn't have air conditioning. Horses and goats would literally walk through the living room. We spent summers at my mom's childhood farm in Minnesota, where there still is no running water or electricity, and just loved it!"
So how does one go from this simple life to having a Masters degree in Agricultural Development and a Ph.D. in Organizational Development? Ann, her twin sister, Helen, and their older sister, Brooke, all attended Texas A&M on full agricultural scholarships. Ann helped to earn her tuition by becoming a State Champion Dairy Foods Judge. Basically, she can taste any category of dairy products - such as milk, sour cream, or ice cream - know the difference and score it. "This paid for college," she exclaimed, adding that it may be a little weird. This is exactly this sort of thing that makes Ann Bluntzer so darn likeable.
She is a treasure trove of adventures and cool experiences. As a part of her schooling, she lived in several developing nations such as Warsaw and Jakarta. Her job was to work with local landowners trying to find the highest and best use of their land. "Jakarta is about 97% Muslim and it's the first time I didn't feel like I fit in. I had to really learn how to be effective and respected. I learned that the aggressive American way doesn't work everywhere. The most important things I did were to listen and observe. It was probably five or six months before I ever offered any ideas."
Living abroad taught Ann many lessons, but mostly she became very grateful for what she had and where she came from. "I also started understanding how we are all connected [across the world] and we all want the same things. If we take care of the planet and each other, and make this top priority, everything else will fall in line.
Moved to Beaufort: Seven years ago with her husband, Sam, a pilot in the Marines.
Unique Adventures: Has travelled to 26 different countries, sky-dived over the Great Barrier Reef and hiked Machu Picchu in Peru.
Best Lessons from Mom: "How to be a confident woman. She honored the creative process. Everything we did got celebrated. She would talk about the questions you got right on a test, even if you made a C."
Most proud of: Son, Thomas, age two
Wants to pass along to Thomas: "To be kind - that's important for a young man. It's my husband's #1 trait."
Quirky family member: "I have to stay tied to my farm background. I have a pot-bellied pig named Lucinda. She is the best pet! She's wickedly smart and very clean. Really she's too smart for her own good."