Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) was established in 1970 as The Committee to Preserve Assateague Island. The legislation that established Assateague Island National Seashore included a provision that would have allowed a significant portion of the island to be developed as a resort, destroying the unspoiled beauty of the island.
As the founding chairperson of the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island, Inc. — an organization that grew to more than a thousand members, now known as Assateague Coastal Trust — Judith Johnson began her campaign with little direct experience in politics or science. In fact, her most recent position had been managing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where she was the first woman in the country to serve in such a role.
Johnson began her activism at the behest of her young son, Reid, after they took a trip to Assateague together in the 1960s. He remembers her reaction on learning of plans to “improve” the pristine barrier island with a thirty-mile highway, a 14,000-car parking lot, motels, and fast-food restaurants. “This is horrible. This is wrong,” he recalls his mother declaring. “Someone has to stop this.” She did. ACT fought to eliminate that provision, and the island’s pristine landscape today is testimony of ACT’s success.
In addition to Mrs. Johnson, Ilia Fehrer was also an active member of the Committee to Preserve Assateague. As a member, she testified before Congress to save the Island. Every New Year's Day, Mrs. Fehrer led a nature walk on the island that now bears her name in remembrance. Her legacy includes Assateague Islands state and national parks, the designation of the Pocomoke as a "wild and scenic river," the Nassawango Creek Preserve and the Worcester County rural legacy area. She battled offshore waste incineration, the building of an industrial park near Ocean City, the needless destruction of acres of wetlands and forests and the permitting of ill-planned communities.
While ACT has stayed true to this legacy of fighting to protect our environment, our vision has expanded. Now we work to protect not only Assateague Island, but the entire Atlantic Coastal Bays watershed.In 2002, Assateague Coastal Trust strengthened its capacity to watch over the Coastal Bays watershed of Maryland and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, by launching the Assateague COASTKEEPER program. The Coastkeeper patrols this geographic area as well as adjacent watersheds on the Lower Eastern Shore not protected by a WATERKEEPER program.
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