Director's passion is group's purpose

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Whenever he has the chance, Derek Vanover begins his workday with an eight-mile bicycle ride from the Augusta Canal headgates to his downtown office.

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Derek Vanover (right), the new executive director of the Central Savannah River Land Trust, talks to Hazel Langrall, the organization's program manager, beside Raes Creek where it runs through land owned and protected by the trust.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Derek Vanover (right), the new executive director of the Central Savannah River Land Trust, talks to Hazel Langrall, the organization's program manager, beside Raes Creek where it runs through land owned and protected by the trust.

The commute, he said, is a tranquil way to start the day - and a reminder of a passion that has become his purpose.

"My background is the love of the land," said Mr. Vanover, who recently became the new executive director of the Central Savannah River Land Trust.

Founded in 2001 by members of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, the trust is a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving environmentally sensitive natural areas, mostly along the Savannah River and stream basins.

"I've always had an interest in keeping natural areas intact," he said. "This will give me a chance to make a difference on a much larger scale."

For the past eight years, Mr. Vanover has worked at Augusta's trees and landscaping department, where he was assistant director. He has also worked with Disney Hotels as a landscape designer.

The land trust works on multiple levels to acquire and preserve important areas, either through permanent conservation easements that offer landowners tax credits or by using grants and other funding sources to simply acquire important lands.

Since its inception more than five years ago, the trust has preserved almost 3,200 acres in three counties, said Hazel Langrall, the organization's program manager, who had served as interim director after her predecessor, Deke Copenhaver, became mayor.

Much of what has been accomplished is along Butler Creek, where the trust is in the final steps of acquiring a continuous strip of stream buffer from Fort Gordon to the Savannah River.

Such acquisitions, Mr. Vanover said, help protect streams from pollution, encroaching development and urban runoff. They also have more tangible benefits, including recreation.

One of the trust's future projects involves establishing a new network of bicycle trails along preserved lands.

"Our goal is a 10-mile bike trail, end to end along Butler Creek," Mr. Vanover said.

Such trails along preserved green space corridors can eventually link to existing trails and connect to the Augusta Canal, Phinizy Swamp Nature Park and even Riverwalk Augusta and Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

"It's a good passive form of recreation that can actually put people out onto these properties," he said. "That way they can see first-hand what it's all about."

As the trust's new director, Mr. Vanover also plays a role in educating the public, landowners, governments and developers about the benefits of conservation, preservation and the dollar value of green space.

"There is definitely a new conservation ethic in development," he said. "Using ecology and conservation can increase property values."

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

DEREK VANOVER

Title: Executive director, Central Savannah River Land Trust

Background: The former assistant director for Augusta's trees and landscaping department is a graduate of the University of Georgia's School of Environmental Design and once worked as a landscape designer for Disney Hotels.

Hobbies: Bicycling, fly-fishing, scuba diving, golf

Quote: "I love a nice, stately tree."


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