ASSATEAGUE — This year’s 32nd Annual Ilia Fehrer-Judy Johnson Memorial New Year’s Day Beach Walk will honor its namesakes and founders of the organization responsible for saving the barrier island from development several decades ago.
In the late 1950s, Assateague Island was slated for development as the future Ocean Beach, Md. before Mother Nature and a steadfast group of fledgling environmentalists intervened. Roads had already been built and lots had been sold for before a series of storms, culminating in the historic 1962 storm erased early development plans.
Prior to Assateague Island’s designation as a National Seashore in 1965, environmental advocate Judy Johnson and other citizens rallied against new plans to develop the barrier island with a park that included a 25-mile highway along with a number of commercial enterprises. In the early 1970s, Johnson formed the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island to draw attention to the barrier island’s wild beauty and encourage further protection of its natural resources.
After Assateague was preserved when the national and state parks were established in a manner compatible with sustaining wildlife and natural barrier island processes, Johnson and her committee began to focus their attention on natural resources, lands and waters in and around the coastal bays in Worcester County. The Committee to Preserve Assateague Island later joined forces with noted Worcester County environmental advocate Ilia Fehrer and her Worcester Environmental Trust to oppose the development of Harbor Town near the Chincoteague Bay.
The Committee to Preserve Assateague later became the Assateague Coastal Trust, which is recognized today as the oldest environmental education and advocacy organization on Delmarva. In 1980, Fehrer, the Committee to Preserve Assateague and the Worcester Environmental Trust organized the first New Year’s Day Assateague Island Beach Walk.
“We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Ilia, Judy and the founders of the Committee to Preserve Assateague,” said Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips this week. “Without their vision and dedication, Assateague and the coastal bays we know and love today would be unrecognizable.”
To that end, the ACT this year will pay tribute to Johnson, Fehrer and the founders with the 32nd annual beach walk on Assateague on New Year’s Day starting at 1 p.m. The theme for this year’s beach walk is “An Island and Time of Change,” and it will be guided again by Park Ranger Chris Seymour.