Two organizations set template for long-term preservation in Highlands

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

When the “Pennies for Preservation” campaign in St. Simon’s, Georgia, which was relayed by Mayor Pat Taylor in his Feb. 2 “Mayor on Duty” column (HERE) is replicated in some form here in Highlands, it will be on the heels of two organizations who have been running with this grassroots idea for a long time.

Richard and Melissa Delany of Old Edwards Hospitality Group (OEI) and George Powell of Highlands Aerial Park have been asking guests and patrons to contribute to this socially consciousness effort for years –12 years for OEI and six years for Highlands Aerial Park.

The Delanys were involved in these efforts during their time at Sea Island prior to coming to Highlands for OEI. 

“Richard and I were part of the preservation process in St. Simons for years, which encompassed the Sea Island Resort and the town overall,” said Melissa. “It’s so important to give back to the community where we do business, particularly entities like the Biological Station and Land Trust which preserve, protect and create awareness of the unique ecosystem and natural environment that makes the Highlands-Cashiers area such a special place to live and visit.”

OEI’s program requests a $1 donation per stay which is added to each guest’s bill upon booking, with the opportunity to opt out, which nobody does, said Melissa. “We state where the money goes and why it is important.”

Though the program was started years ago, the Delanys feel it is more relevant today than ever before.

“It is so relevant today because a rapidly growing sector of today’s population is basing decisions about where to travel (and to do business) on how socially responsible those companies and destinations are, with environmental focus being a big driver,” she said.

According to founder of the Highlands Aerial Park George Powell, they add a 6% environmental fee to patrons’ total bill and when questioned – which is rare, he said, they explain what the “fee” is for.

Powell said since the trees on the acreage are such a big part of what they do, a portion of the fee goes to an arborist who combs the forest to make sure the trees are healthy. The rest is divided annually between the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and the Highlands Biological Station.

“If patrons object to the environmental fee we simply take it off the bill,” said Powell. 

OEI started the program in 2011, adding 200 Main in 2014. 

“In total since 2011, our guests have contributed $105,350 to the Highlands Biological Station,” said Melissa.

In 2015, OEI initiated the program at Half-Mile Farm and decided to bring in the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust as a beneficiary due to its important conservation efforts in the community. 

“Since then, our Half-Mile Farm guests have donated $7,836 to the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust,” she said.

Gary Wein, executive director of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust said the organization wouldn’t be able to do what it does – preserve and maintain land – without the help of donors.

“We rely solely on our donors. We aren’t fiscally supported by the town or the county, nor do we get grants. What OEI and Highlands Aerial Park are doing is incredibly awesome and appreciated,” he said

The Highlands Biological Foundation said it has received continuous support from local businesses, notably Old Edwards Inn and Highlands Aerial Park, too.

“OEI recently exceeded over $100,000 through monthly contributions over the past 10 years,” said Charlotte Muir, executive director Highlands Biological Foundation .

“These partnerships enable us to provide public environmental education programs throughout our community and at the Highlands Nature Center, directly supporting the community we live in.  It’s a wonderful way for businesses to give back and we are so grateful to for the support.”

As the Pennies for Preservation idea ferments here in Highlands, potential beneficiaries might be the Mirror Lake Improvement Association which is trying to raise money to restore Mirror Lake, Highlands Plateau Greenway as it strives to construct and maintain trails around Highlands, the garden clubs who beautify Highlands’ public places and other like-minded organizations.

Pictured at the top of the article is Rock Mountain with Chimney Top in the background in Cashiers.

One thought on “Two organizations set template for long-term preservation in Highlands

  1. Currently, a number of nonprofits on the plateau are discussing a similar idea in which local businesses would pledge 1% of monthly profits between June and October to a collaborative body of nonprofits who provide essential services and improved access to services – everything from the arts to healthcare to legal assistance – for at-risk communities in the area. So many of our most vulnerable citizens are also those on whom we depend to keep the local economy running. The biological station is part of that conversation as are about a dozen others. Would love to see more support from our local businesses. The program suggested by the mayor is a step in the right direction, but just a step – I hope we can see more such generosity and support for all of us doing this work to improve the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of those who work so hard here.

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