Faces of Conservation

Austin Okie acted sooner rather than later to preserve a cherished spot from childhood.

Poplar Thicket Dedication

Roger Jones and Austin Okie at the Poplar Thicket Dedication.

Austin Okie could have sold his prime real estate, or waited to pass it on later in life or as part of a will. However the rapid pace of development and a growing population in his corner of eastern Sussex County led him to act sooner rather than later. His idea was simple; he wanted to preserve a cherished spot from his childhood that had been in the family since 1918. 

In the fall of 2008, The Nature Conservancy and Austin Okie participated in a ceremony marking the transfer of his 118-acre property to the state of Delaware, establishing it as the Marian R. Okie Memorial Wildlife Preserve at Poplar Thicket. The transfer came after the Conservancy assisted Okie with securing key protections for the property to ensure it could be enjoyed by Delaware residents and visitors long into the future. The preserve will be restored as one of the state’s remaining sensitive inland bays and opened to the public for environmental education and as a refuge for birds, as Okie hoped.

Poplar Thicket adds to a conservation legacy established by Okie and his family more than a decade ago, when they placed a conservation easement on their 154-acre farm located on the Indian River. Prior to that, they provided financing for the Conservancy’s acquisition of more than 400 acres located adjacent to their property. Today, these lands and waters comprise the Bullseye-Ferry Landing Preserve, a spot representing the Delaware chapter’s first conservation easement agreement.

“The farm and the surrounding lands and waters comprise the Bullseye-Ferry Landing Preserve,” comments Andy Manus, director of conservation for the Delaware chapter. “It represents the Delaware chapter’s first conservation easement agreement, paving the way for using this creative conservation tool to protect more of the state’s wetlands, forests and coastal areas.”

Austin Okie attributes his concern and love for nature to the simple fact that he grew up working and playing outdoors. “As a boy, I was outside all the time, working on the farm — that was just the way it was,” he says.

His time spent outdoors cultivated a particular interest in birds and trees. A self-taught naturalist, he can identify local vegetation, and the many birds that live and migrate through his corner of Delaware. He calls the natural places around him a “bird paradise.”

“I want to preserve the history, wildlife and environment of this area in the midst of growing development pressures and increasing populations,” shares Okie. “I’ve seen that The Nature Conservancy has done good things to protect land.”  


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