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Preserving the great outdoors

Judy Steckler retires from land trust, leaving legacy of conservation

Despite her many accomplishments, Judy Steckler prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

When recounting her career highlights, the former executive director with the Land Trust for the MississippiCoastal Plain focuses on others —namely the volunteers, colleagues, city officials and others who have helped the organization thrive.

But during a November event to honor Steckler, recognizing her retirement and 20-plus-year commitment to Coast conservation, she was the center of attention. To mark the occasion, several mayors collaborated on a proclamation recognizing her achievements.

“I’m thankful; I was surprised,” she says. “I didn’t feel like there was a need to be honored. I felt like the satisfactionI received in doing the work was not the paycheck; instead, it was improving the quality of life and leaving a legacy for future generations.”

What has motivated the wife and mother of two is a desire to conserve, protect and promote open spaces and green places in South Mississippi. Her involvement began through her volunteer work with the Biloxi Bay Area Chamber, and in 1998, she participated in round table discussions among civic and business leaders about the community, the economy and the environment.

As a result of these conversations, a committed group of citizens, private agencies and corporations formed the Land Trust, which Steckler was tapped to lead.

“I said to myself, ‘This is something I would enjoy doing,” Steckler recalls. “I had some background, and I’d always enjoyed the outdoors as a child.”

During Steckler’s tenure, the LandTrust secured numerous grants, conserved thousands of acres of property, forged partnerships and influenced countless people to become more environmentally conscious. However, the most poignant moments for her have been personal — such as connecting youth with nature, providing opportunities for ecological study or seeing dozens of white pelicans congregate on land trust property.

“It is difficult to sum up this woman; she is nothing short of a true inspiration for women in Mississippi and for conservationists all over,” says Sara Guice, who took over for Steckler as executive director for the Land Trust.“Her work has impacted Mississippi in the most profound ways, and it will continue to do so for generations to come.

“For a person who had no formal training in science or conservation, this is amazing.”

Guice points out that after HurricaneKatrina, Steckler and her team rose to the challenge of treating and protecting oak trees that had been covered in salt water.Such efforts earned her the nickname“the Lorax” in the Sun Herald, which refers to the beloved Dr. Seuss book about protecting the environment.

“(Steckler) is known and respected statewide for her efforts,” Guice says.

Ever the outdoor enthusiast, Steckler plans to spend much of her newfound free time hiking, boating and enjoying nature with her husband. She also wants to see more of her granddaughter and catch upon projects at home.

Despite her retirement, the devoted conservationist continues to stay involved with the Land Trust.

“I would like to thank everyone who was a member, served on the board of directors, took the time to volunteer and helped the Land Trust succeed in its programs,” Steckler says. “I want to say we still need you, and in recognizing me,I hope others will be inspired to join our team and help us continue our work.”

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