Since its inception in 1993, ORLT has protected 2,154 acres on 28 conservation easements; they also have one fee ownership. ORLT primarily protects land in the Upper Oconee River Watershed but some extend to the Broad and Alcovy Watersheds. At the present time, ORLT protects land in the following ten counties: Baldwin, Barrow, Clarke, Hancock, Jackson, Jones, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton.
Wellman Conservation Easement
The Wellman easement is owned by Walter and Susan Wellman of Walton County. They have protected almost 200 acres of land through a conservation easement. This property, which borders the Alcovy River and is near Alcovy Mountain, includes a wide forested buffer along the river, as well as meadows and forested slopes. The Wellmans’ continued commitment to our green heritage is much appreciated.
Landowner Wellman speaks of future plans to develop his land in the manner that his conservation easement allows him to and has expressed his satisfaction with the restrictions outlined in his easement. He stated that by protecting his land he had also protected his future interests and development plans.
Allen Conservation Easement
Dr. David Allen, a retired Atlanta oral surgeon and enthusiastic outdoorsman, and his family, have protected 124 acres of pasture and timber land in Walton County. This land, located partially within the city limits of Social Circle, lies squarely within the path of Atlanta’s ever- expanding growth. The Allens felt a strong desire to do something that was right for their land, their family, and the rest of their community. Now the property will remain a green oasis for future generations.
“I chose to protect my land because of my firm belief that all Georgians need to have green space preserved – the future will depend on decisions that address quality-of-life issues,” – Dr. David Allen
Goldthwaite Conservation Easement
The Goldthwaite sisters, Lerea, Cindy, and Patricia, of Walton County have protected their 74-acre property, which borders Hard Labor Creek State Park. This land, a mix of meadows and forest, will provide a buffer for our state park, protect the water quality of Hard Labor Creek, and provide habitat for piedmont plants and animals. The Goldthwaites worried that the woodland experiences and views they grew up with were rapidly disappearing and found that to be an intolerable loss. “We feel relieved and have peace of mind knowing that it is protected. The fact that it is preserved makes us happy. At least there is a little oasis here.” – Lerea Goldwaithe
Bath Conservation Easement
On the day after Christmas, 2002, the Oconee River Land Trust received a wonderful gift – a conservation easement on 260.1 acres on Snows Mill Road in southwestern Oconee County. The donors were Jane and Nick Bath, who chose to permanently protect their property from potentially unwise development. The mostly gently rolling land is about half forested with hardwoods, and has 3,000 feet of frontage on the Apalachee River. That frontage includes remnants of the dam associated with historic Snows Mill, which lies across the river in Walton County. There is also half of the bridge that once carried wagon loads of grain to be ground in the mill in the 1800’s and in the early 1900’s. The Bath’s have converted the remains of the bridge into a unique cabin-like structure for a summer retreat over the cooling water. Nearby is the foundation of the general store that served the residents of the local area.
In addition to the river as an attraction for wildlife, a small creek divides the tract into roughly equal parts. The west side is mostly forest, with two narrow meadows to provide plenty of edge habitat for wildlife. The east side, (nearest the road) has the most open field, the historic area, the owners’ dwellings, and a 3-acre pond. All in all, the easement has something for about any species of wildlife one could expect to see in the Georgia Piedmont, and Jane Bath says she has seen them all. And this is in addition to the historic remnants, which are like icing on the cake.
Boulder Springs Conservation Easement
In December, 2000, Boulder Springs became the first of several conservation easements donated to the ORLT that are adjunct to a residential subdivision. At 141 acres, it is also the largest of that group. Located on both sides of New High Shoals Road in Oconee County, it also lies on both sides of Robinson Creek and its major tributary, Little Robinson. The creeks and their tributary branches and bordering forests thus form the centerpiece of this easement.
As the subdivision neared completion, the residents formed a Homeowners Association (HOA), and the easement protected property now belongs to the HOA. The design of the subdivision and the easement provides nearly every homeowner with immediate physical access to the easement. By walking the network of foot trails, residents can enjoy the beauty and serenity of the mature forest while it protects the creeks from polluted stormwater run-off. And each spring, they have the additional benefit of an array of attractive woodland wildflowers.
Orange Twin Conservation Easement
Orange Twin is an organization of people who have a vision of a community dedicated to principles of conservation and low impact living. They acquired a large tract in northern Clarke County between Helican Springs Road on the east and Smokey Road on the west and hope to have two residential communities, accessed from each of the county roads. In November, 2008, they donated to the Oconee River Land Trust a conservation easement on the 101 acres between the two planned villages.
The conservation easement, which occupies land once used as a summer camp for church youths, is completely wooded, mostly with mature hardwoods. Noketchee Creek forms part of the northern boundary, then bends and runs through the easement. Helican Springs, just off the property on the east side, feeds a branch that joins Noketchee Creek shortly before it leaves the property. Although it is surrounded by semi-rural residences and subdivisions, one gets a feeling of quiet peace when walking on the tract’s several trails. As the neighborhood continues to evolve and grow, and the organization develops and occupies the two villages, the conservation easement will take on a greater significance as an oasis of natural environment. Meanwhile, the easement’s forest will continue to protect the water in the two steams from pollution and sedimentation.
Groton Place Conservation Easement
Until recently, Groton Place, owned by Robert and Carol Winthrop, was the largest conservation easement held by the Oconee River Land Trust. At 366.7 acres, the Oglethorpe County tract provides protection for several diverse ecosystems. An earthen dam with a 23.5-acre lake is the visual centerpiece.
One side of the property is bounded by Beaverdam Creek, the boundary between Oglethorpe and Madison Counties; true to its name, the creek has been adopted by a family of beavers. An adjacent wetland, apparently the original course of the creek before it was channelized, attracts several species of waterfowl, and sports a rookery of nests that are home to a flock of great blue herons.
The majority of the property is wooded, mostly in hardwoods, but following a well-written forest management plan, sufficient openings allow for excellent wildlife habitat. The Winthrops have developed an extensive network of well-built and maintained trails over the entire property. The owners use them for hiking and mountain biking, and they also make the annual job of monitoring the conservation easement easy and enjoyable.
Cook Conservation Easement
The 41-acre Cook Conservation Easement stretches from Ford Road to the Middle Oconee River in southern Jackson County. Donated in December of 2000, it was the first easement recorded by the Oconee River Land Trust. Although the property is called “Lotsanotty,” (as in lots of knotty lumber), that name does not accurately reflect the high quality mature oak and pine on its ridges. The CE allows very conservative timber harvest to reflect the management plan’s major objective – maintain the beauty of the forest. The owner has established over one and one-half miles of hiking trails.
Another objective is the protection of the water quality of the Middle Oconee River, one of the sources of water for four counties. To further safeguard the water, the tract has two zones. The eleven acres along the river and up along two small tributaries on either side cannot be harvested, nor have any disturbance except hiking trails. The remaining 30 acres can be divided only once, allowing two homesites. Any timber harvesting must leave at least 70 square feet of basal area per acre, thus ensuring a substantial residual forest. To date, no development has occurred except for two barely drivable unimproved roads, and no cutting of live trees, although several down trees provide firewood for personal use.
Traylor Conservation Easement
Each one of the conservation easements held by the Oconee River Land Trust is unique in some way,and the Traylor easement differs in several ways. The 72-acre tract is the first area that is not in the Georgia Piedmont – it is in the Sand Hills, also called the Fall Line, in southern Hancock County. It is also unique among all our easements in NOT having any Chinese privet. But among the 25 species of trees and shrubs counted on the baseline survey, longleaf pine is the most important. Owner John Traylor, who donated the easement in December, 2009, has been planting longleaf pine to supplement the natural seedlings provided by the mature longleaf pine trees present on the land.
For those unfamiliar with the growth habits of the species, a little explanation is in order. Longleaf pine seeds germinate in the normal manner, but the seedling does not develop a stem. For the first three to six years, it stays in the “grass stage.” The seedling looks like a small tuft of grass, but all the while, it is sending down a large taproot. When the stem does begin to elongate, it shoots straight up three to five feet the first year, and continues to shoot up with minimal branching the second year. During the grass stage, the tree actually benefits from wild fire. Its hardwood competitors – oak, sweetgum, red maple, etc. – are killed back, the fire releases nutrients for the surviving longleaf, and the brown spot needle disease of the pine is held in check.
The topography of the sand hills is noticeably more rolling than the gentle slopes of the lower Piedmont. Keg Creek flows from the northeast to form part of the easement boundary. The creek broadens into a shallow pond and open marsh before it leaves the property on its way to the Oconee River via several other named streams. Several good springs bubble up on the slope down to the creek. The pond and marsh on Keg Creek attract migrating and local waterfowl. The sparse human population in the area also favors black bear, which have been seen on the tract. A broad powerline right-of-way forms part of the easement boundary before it enters the easement and crosses the extensive marsh. That opening provides habitat for small birds and mice, and its edges benefit turkeys and small mammals.
Healy Preserve Conservation Easement
Healy Pointe conservation easement in Jones County is, as of December 31, 2011, the largest – 843.2 acres – and the most distant – 85 road miles – from Athens. It is in the northern outskirts of Macon and in that city’s zone of expansion, which makes this easement an important “investment” in the future of the area’s natural environment. A dissected plateau with a maximum range of 200 feet in elevation, the tract represents the southernmost extension of Piedmont topography. Numerous small valleys with spring-fed branches separate the rolling ridges. Most of these headwater streams eventually join to form Town Creek, which flows three miles to the Ocmulgee River. With its northwestern boundary on rural Rifle Range Road and its southeastern access on suburban River North Boulevard, it truly is on the “rural-urban interface.”
A network of good gravel and dirt roads make the area easily accessible for hunting, timber harvesting, and just plain enjoying the attractive mixture of open meadows and forested ridges, slopes and draws. The forests are typical of the Piedmont – planted loblolly pine on the ridges and upper slopes, and mixed hardwoods on the lower slopes and stream borders. A small two-acre wooded wetland is near the northern tip of the property, off Rifle Range Road. The forests will be managed according to a forest management plan.
Such an extensive property of meadow and forest hosts an impressive array of wildlife, one of the conservation values for which the easement was designed. Other major values are protection of water quality of the headwater streams, and open space which is rapidly disappearing as the city of Macon continues to grow.
Lakeridge Conservation Easement
The Lake Ridge Conservation easement covering 481 acres in Jones County was donated to ORLT on December 30, 2011. This land is in the Ocmulgee watershed, and the project is typical of ORLT’s goal to put protection by easement in the path of encroaching development. The property is entirely forested with loblolly pine on the ridges and upper slopes and mixed hardwoods in the draws. A forest management plan will guide the timber harvesting and regeneration. Although timber production for income is an objective, other conservation values include habitat for wildlife of all kinds, and forest aesthetics. Wildlife are plentiful; the larger of the two lakes is home to a pair of otters as well as visiting waterfowl. The landowner has seen bald eagles in the vicinity and deer tracks are everywhere. Included in the forest management plan are several wildlife food plots that benefit deer, turkey, and many birds and mammals.
The property is about five road miles from downtown Macon; the southwest corner of the tract is less than a mile from the Ocmulgee River. Pratt Creek and smaller branches on the property flow into that river. Being so close to Macon, the land could easily be converted to subdivisions if not protected by the easement. The people of Macon will doubly benefit from this landowner’s legacy – they will have that buffer of open space, with its home for wildlife and their water will be a degree cleaner due to the protection provided by the forested Pratt Creek watershed.