There’s only a bit of truth to the legend that Ilona Balfour chained herself to a spreading ficus tree to protect it from destruction.
“I only threatened to tie myself to that tree,” she says in the lilt of her native South Africa.
“I had to sign a document that I wouldn’t protest anymore.”
Balfour, of Lantana, lost that battle, but she continues, at age 72, to keep fighting the good fight. And because of Balfour’s efforts, and those of neighbors Elizabeth and Rod Tennyson, an abandoned garbage dump along the Intracoastal Waterway is today the Lantana Nature Preserve. About 10 years ago, there were concerted efforts to develop the 6½-acre tract just north of Ocean Boulevard. “But we went down there and fought and rabble-roused and got every fisherman involved,” Balfour recalls.
Today, the preserve boasts native vegetation and is home to myriad critters and wading birds. There’s a little walking path so folks can stroll amid nature.
Alas, the ficus is gone. “It wasn’t considered native,” Balfour says with a tinge of regret. She and her husband, Malcolm, a former associate editor with the National Enquirer, moved to Hypoluxo Island in 1972 and since 1975 have lived in a house just west of the preserve.
“Our kids used to wade across the water at low tide and go play in the vacant area. Then there were plans to put in a driving range or a shopping center. The town felt it needed to sell the dump to make some money.” That’s when Balfour and the Tennysons decided it was time for a little “rabble rousing.” They marshaled the residents, badgered local and state officials, and saved the area.
“Lantana’s just a little fishing village where everyone knows everyone.”
Today, Balfour serves as a director of the Nature Preserve board.
“You think there isn’t much in there. But when you go in, there’s a lot there. There’s possums and raccoons and other little animals.”
She hints, not very persuasively, that her fighting days are over. “We just want to keep the peace and not alienate anybody. I’m done with the fighting.”
She’s worked to get the children of the neighborhood and town involved and now the preserve is part of the local elementary school curriculum.
Balfour volunteers working with children as a guardian ad litem with the county, which, like the effort to save the preserve, has its ups and downs. But the rewards, she says, outweigh the disappointments.
Judy Black, a fellow director, friend and president of the Hypoluxo Island Property Owners Association, says Balfour “does a tremendous amount for the community.”
“She has a wonderful sense of humor. If there’s a cause involving people or animals or birds or trees, she’s involved.”
Ilona Balfour was nominated to be a Coastal Star by Judy Black, president of the Hypoluxo Island Property Owners Association.