On American Beach on South Amelia Island, Florida lives MaVynee Betsch, a woman of substance. Known by locals as “The Beach Lady,” Betsch has made it her full-time mission since 1975 to preserve and protect American Beach from development and destruction.
Betsch is trying to get the state of Florida to purchase part of the 200 acres of American Beach and turn it into a nature preserve. The local county government has designated six acres of the beach as a park, including the island’s tallest sand dune and the dwarf oaks naturally sculpted by the northeast winds. But Betsch wants more, including protection for the loggerhead turtles and endangered right whales that live offshore.
“See these Monarch butterflies?” Betsch asks. “There used to be hundreds and hundreds of them.” The butterflies lost their habitat when residents mowed the wildflower patches and the county sprayed pesticides to control the mosquitos. The combative Betsch convinced the local mosquito control board to install bat houses to help control the insects and talked many residents into letting their lawns grow wild. “I’m trying to show people that there is a natural way to solve their problems,” she says. “We can have mosquito control and butterflies, too.”
Betsch likes other things to grow wild too. A colorful figure, Betsch sports foot-long fingernails on one hand, and a towering rope of hair. A former opera star in Europe, she has given her life savings—$750,000—to some 60 environmental organizations and causes, most of them involving animals. When Betsch isn’t out on the beach picking up trash or giving weekend tours of the island and park, she is writing letters to politicians and newspaper editors or corresponding with others as a member of the advisory board of the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF).
With her shining example, Betsch is bringing awareness and protection to southern beaches.