Ossabaw Island is uniquely protected in Georgia by its status as a heritage preserve. Many areas owned by the state have the heritage preserve designation, but are called Wildlife Management Areas, parks, or natural areas.
The Georgia Heritage Trust Act of 1975 (O.C.G.A. 12-3-70) was established to “preserve certain real property…that exhibits unique natural characteristics, special historical significance, or particular recreational value.,” Under this act, certain properties are designated as heritage preserves.
Each heritage preserve is designated by an Executive Order from the Governor of Georgia, based on recommendation by the Department of Natural Resources. As the first state owned property to receive this designation, in 1978, the Ossabaw Island Heritage Preserve is unique in that the land is reserved for particular activities and has controlled access by the general public, as stated in its Executive Order. Unlike many other state properties with heritage preserve status, recreational activities that do not include research, study, or education are prohibited on Ossabaw Island.
Ossabaw’s Heritage Preserve designation was negotiated by the Torrey and West families as a condition of their sale of Ossabaw to the State of Georgia in 1978.
The Heritage Preserve was designated on June 15, 1978 via an Executive Order by Georgia Governor George Busbee, ‘…to protect, conserve, and preserve the natural and cultural resources of this Island for the benefit of present and future generations, and that Ossabaw Island shall only be used for natural, scientific, and cultural study, research, and education, and environmentally sound preservation, conservation, and management of the Island’s ecosystem.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Ossabaw Island Foundation (TOIF) co-manage Ossabaw Island as determined in an Island Use Agreement. DNR oversees the environmentally sound conservation and management of the island ecosystems and infrastructure. TOIF is responsible for educational programming in all disciplines and the review of cultural and educational study program applications. DNR & TOIF handle preservation of cultural resources and work jointly to review applications for scientific research projects. TOIF also has the exclusive right to access of the northern half of Ossabaw Island, and shared rights with DNR of the southern half of the island.
Visitors to the island must be accompanied by TOIF or DNR representatives.
Stewards of the Heritage Preserve
The Ossabaw Island Foundation’s (TOIF’s) first priority and mission is to assure that all who use Ossabaw Island comply with the island’s Heritage Preserve requirements of “natural, scientific or cultural education, research or study.” Empowered by the Use Agreement, TOIF is tasked with sharing Ossabaw Island’s story and resources, while preserving the island for future generations.