After nearly two years of negotiating, Athens-Clarke County, in partnership with the Oconee River Land Trust (ORLT), has purchased a 310-acre tract in northwest Athens off Tallassee Road. Bordering the Middle Oconee River for 1.2 miles, the ecologically diverse forest will provide a setting for low-impact public recreation, environmental education and scientific study.
Former landowner Taylor Glover wanted to permanently protect this community resource. This project became a reality on Tuesday through the efforts of six groups – the ACC’s Greenspace Acquisition Program, the ORLT, the Riverview Foundation, The Conservation Fund, the Athens Land Trust and Mr. Glover.
The ORLT worked with both ACCUG and Mr. Glover to develop a conservation easement to protect permanently the property’s natural resources. These include a mature hardwood forest of oak, hickory and river birch as well as riparian zones and a wetland. The conservation easement, ORLT’s 33rd, will ensure that the species-rich habitats continue to thrive, local drinking water from the river is protected and green space is available for the future.
"Thanks to Mr. Glover and the creative partnership of ACCUG, the ORLT, The Conservation Fund and the Riverview Foundation, an amazing forest is now protected where people will be able to see firsthand what land conservation is all about,” said Daniel Hope III, ORLT Chair.
ACC provided a major portion of the funding for the acquisition through the Special Local Option Sales Tax funded Greenspace Acquisition Program. The Conservation Fund, a national land and water conservation organization, helped get a generous grant from the Riverview Foundation to bridge the funding gap and complete the project. The Athens Land Trust was instrumental in helping obtain the assistance of The Conservation Fund.
"The Oconee River is an important natural asset for Athens-Clarke County and the state of Georgia, and we are pleased to contribute to its protection," said Riverview Foundation Chairman, George Fontaine, Sr. "We are excited to be involved in this successful partnership to expand public green space and recreational opportunities along the river corridor for the surrounding community."
The local government will manage the property under the goals of its Green space Program. It has begun to develop a Comprehensive Ecological Management Plan to guide property management decisions. A detailed site plan will protect ecologically diverse and sensitive habitats while enhancing educational and recreational experiences. Future plans include hiking trails and scenic vistas highlighting some of the site’s most beautiful features.
Adjacent to the now publicly owned forest is 232 acres of private property protected under conservation easements in 2011 and 2012 by Mr. Glover and the Athens Land Trust. Together, the easements on the properties create a 542-acre stretch of protected natural land, a significant amount of green space in one of Georgia’s most developed counties.
“Protecting the natural heritage of a community not only ensures the stewardship of its vital resources like drinking water, it also enhances the character of the area by providing opportunities for the young and old to enjoy the outdoors,” said Andrew Schock, Georgia State Director for The Conservation Fund. “We are enormously grateful for the generosity of the Riverview Foundation and applaud the partnership that succeeded in preserving this natural haven for generations to come.”