Building a Legacy of Live Oaks



“If you ain’t having fun, it’s your own damn fault.” An adage my daddy lived by. I like it. But if you need a little bit more than total hedonism, sprinkle in some blessing, baste with Bryan County benevolence and slow roast in the warmth of friends old and new for, say, two decades of the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation (CBTF), and you’ve got yourself a savory legacy of live oaks.

Two thousand plus trees and twenty-two years after its founding, the CBTF knows how to do good work in the world and how to have a good time while at it. The mission is simple: to protect, promote and plant tree canopy in Richmond Hill and Bryan County.
What began with friends over spaghetti supper (there may have been wine), nurtured with a weekend outing to Ossabaw Island, Lowcountry boils, state wide awards and supportive grants… there’s cause enough for dancing.

Gnarled live oaks dripping with Spanish moss in JF Gregory Park set the scene for the annual CBTF fundraiser. With briny oysters steaming on the fire, the essence of Coastal Georgia, the evening of March 5, 2022 was a celebration of the trees. Supporters and sponsors of CBTF gathered after the isolation of COVID with dinner, live music and raffles and prizes. Donated experiences and items included gifts from local merchants and an all-day boat tour with local historian and raconteur, Angus McLeod.

Tables sported burlap runners, pillar candles flickering in huge glass jars, adorned with twine and oyster shells, herbs and bluebird houses, the pavilion transformed into a coastal party scene designed by Becky Kogaklis!

Harvey Lashley, Director of City Parks and Trees for Richmond Hill, was honored as the CBTF Tree Hero of 2022. A 60-gallon live oak will be planted in his honor and marked with a plaque to recognize his three decades of service to the community and its trees.

“Having fun while doing good,” says Jackie Montesino, President of CBTF. She is the latest in a line of strong women who have lead the founding, growth and endurance of the organization.

All these festivities support the foundation’s purchase of trees for planting in the community. Live oaks, Georgia’s state tree, are most often the choice for they are the most dramatic and certainly the most iconic of the trees we plant. CBTF’s work is on display for all top see and is especially visible along Ford Avenue. The healthy young trees, from the First United Methodist Church to Magnolia Street were some of the first efforts of the newly formed tree foundation in 2002.

But planting is only one aspect of the foundation’s mission. Another is promoting tree canopy. Thus, a crucial accomplishment of the CBTF is the partnership forged with the governments of both Bryan County and Richmond Hill. As our area has faced rapid growth, the need to protect the canopy has grown more critical.

Led by Gene Brogdon, the CBTF Government Committee hammered out tree ordinances that were deemed fair and acceptable by all parties, including builders and developers as well as environmentalists and elected officials. A tree board was created by the city, thus allowing Richmond Hill to apply for and receive national recognition as a Tree City, USA. Avid tree lover and late City Councilman, Johnny Murphy, added his strong support for the trees he loved and with these ordinances in place, canopy requires attention by law. Another success.

True success is built for the future. Young people have been a cornerstone of the CBTF. Education about trees and their contributions to our daily life has been a goal from the beginning. The Boy Scout program has been a faithful partner in planting, as well Richmond Hill High School civic clubs, schools, and families.

In 2011, the Bryan County Board of Education joined with the foundation to support teacher training with the Mary Warnell Forestry Education Center. The targeted curriculum, designated Project Learning Tree, was offered to twenty-one teachers for use in science classrooms.

Continuing to support environmental learning, certified arborist and CBTF Board member, Jerry Holcomb, endowed a scholarship, awarded to support an environmentally-focused college major for a Bryan County senior. The CBTF actively champions the role of young people in shaping the future of our community.

Where We Are Now?

Those of us who have been in Bryan County for at least ten years have certainly felt the explosive growth during that time. Our anecdotal observations were confirmed by the census of 2020. I guess everybody has heard that Bryan County was the fastest growing county in Georgia in the last decade. This fact makes it imperative to reassess the role of the CBTF.

Now is the time to revisit and revitalize the efforts of the foundation. Review those tree ordinances. Renew our official standing as a Tree City, and rally around some our most visible old trees. Take the one at the intersection of GA Highway 144 and Belfast/Keller/Oak Level Road. A planned roundabout threatens the 200 year old live oak. The foundation is talking with leaders about how to ensure road safety and protect the tree. We are hopeful that a solution can be be found that will save the tree and prioritize the well-being of those who travel the roads that surround it.

People need trees, but trees need people, too, those who will be advocates for their place in our lives.

CBTF Treasurer, JayJay Hendrix, urges, “We especially invite membership from those who have gotten trees from us in the past to help us continue this benefit to the community. Your support is a necessity to ensure our tree canopy continues to flourish in our beautiful coastal world.”

Planting a tree is an act of faith, a gift for generations that come after us, people we will never know. But I like to think that somewhere, I will feel some sense of satisfaction, when some friends or family gather under the beauty of a tree we planted in this place we all call home. Just like I do now when I imagine that future, I am smiling.

You see a theme here: fun is being had. And good is being done. Win.Win. So much winning! You are all invited to this party.

My daddy would approve.

Interested? Here’s where you go: and Facebook:@tree foundation