Golden Winged Warbler Habitat Project Update

SE Trust Creates Much Needed Habitat for “Near Threatened” Golden-winged Warbler

Southeast Trust for Parks & Land (STPAL) and their Wildlife Consultant, Vic Vansant, is undertaking a project with Ecoforester, Carolina Audubon, USDA Equip program, and State of North Carolina Forestry and DENR to create 16-acres of habitat for the “near threatened” golden-winged warbler (GWWA) on 750 acre Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve in Yancey County NC.  This bird’s population has declined 98% in the Appalachians in the past 45 years, primarily due to habitat loss.  However, one was heard at this site in 2014 by regional Audubon Conservation Biologist Aimee Tomcho, which lead to prioritizing this habitat expansion project, as GWWA often return to the same breeding sites year after year.  The NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s (NCWRC) Technical Assistance Biologist Clint Barden helped advise and secure cost-share funding from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The neo-tropical GWWA winters is Central and South America but returns to the eastern US to breed every summer.  For its breeding habitat, this bird relies on 5- to 25-acre patches of early successional habitat (ESH; i.e., young forests, meadows, and shrublands) with 10-15 large “perch” trees per acre, surrounded by mature deciduous forest.  The existing power line on the property was providing some of this ESH for the GWWA but expanding this by creating more adjacent young forest in a more natural shape and size for the bird was key.

EcoForesters’ forest restoration crew established the initial 2-acre young forest habitat block this year by felling many of the common dense trees near the powerline with little to no economic value and herbiciding the stumps to prevent these trees from resprouting to maintain the habitat for the GWWA for a longer period of time.  An additional 14-acres of adjacent more mature forest will be harvested by a logger to create more habitat and help fund the project.  EcoForesters also controlled all the non-native invasive plants on the site so that they will not overtake the newly created growing space.  This is an essential step before any planned forest disturbance. 

ESH is an underrepresented habitat type across our forested landscapes.  It is estimate that 100+ years ago 5-10% of forests used be maintained in this early successional state through native grazing (elk, bison), fire, wind, ice, and natural tree mortality.  However, since around 1900 native grazers have been extirpated, fire has been suppressed, and widespread clearcuts have regenerated into an even age forest without much structural diversity, which benefits many declining species of wildlife, not just the iconic, near threatened golden-winged warbler.

The primary goal for the project is to create habitat for this at-risk bird species.  Therefore, the timber harvesting will need to be done by very skilled loggers.  Other advantages to the timber harvest are to improve the many poorly designed and eroding old logging roads on the property, to protect water quality in the nearby trout stream, and to establish better access to this permanently conserved nature preserve to allow for public hiking and maintaining the habitat for the bird.  Without regular disturbance (controlled burning, cutting, grazing, or herbiciding) the habitat will grow up and no longer be suitable for the GWWA.

All wildlife friendly trees – oaks, in particular, but also cherry, hickory, beech, hawthorns, apples, witch hazel, and standing dead trees – were left to increase the value of the ESH for all associated wildlife species.   The vast majority of the trees marked for harvest are the very common yellow-poplars.  Smaller trees were also left scattered or in clumps to create more habitat diversity.  And of course, no harvesting can happen during the breeding season for all birds (April-July).  Furthermore, a proposed stream crossing was avoided and stream buffers of at least 50’ were left untouched to ensure high water quality was maintained and to break up the ESH for more edge habitat which is especially important to all wildlife.

Aimee Tomcho reported the following on April 25, 2021: I enjoyed visiting the GWWA restoration site Friday afternoon. There were a bunch of songbirds using the restoration area already (Blue-headed vireo, Black-throated green warbler, Hooded warbler, Black-and-white warbler…)! GWWAs are not back yet but I will go up there in a few weeks and conduct surveys. Lots of Fringed Phacelia blooming along the forest road.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the American Bird Conservancy, Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, Audubon North Carolina, Fundacion Proaves-Colombia, numerous universities & states’ wildlife departments, as well as private foundations are collaborating to help restore this species by aiming to double its population in the Appalachians in 40 years.  Read more at:

A Love Story

We’re feeling the ❤ love ❤ as we countdown to Valentine’s Day What a perfect week to introduce you to a couple of STPAL sweethearts and share their fun story with you.

Meet Evelyn and Tim. Their love story began more than 40 years ago in Ohio. In that four decades, they married, raised a family, and retired to Pickens County. They love each other. And…they love the outdoors 🌳🌲🌳🌲🌳🌲

They enjoy hiking, camping, and exploring natural lands. Tim is a mountain biker, cave diver, and officially serves as the unofficial trail boss at @TalkingRockNaturePreserve 👏👏👏

He cuts the grass in the common areas. 🌱

He clears trees that fall across trails after a storm. ⛈⚡️⛈

In the summer, Tim relentlessly battles the blackberry bushes.

He clears the pine straw from the trails when it gets too slick.

He installed the bike repair station. 🚲

He helped frame the new pavilion.

While “in real life,” Tim is retired, we assure you he’s still working hard for Talking Rock Nature Preserve (but, no paycheck for this job!) He does this because he loves Talking Rock and the community it serves.

So, when Evelyn was scratching her head a few months ago for the perfect Christmas gift, she thought of TRNP. She reached out to our Executive Director and together they schemed up a perfect gift to honor her love for Tim, and Tim’s love for the park. Evelyn made a gift to buy the supplies … and Voila! 🤩🥰🤩 If you enjoy mountain biking at TRNP, you’ll notice a pretty cool new feature – a wood banked turn (berm) across a section of the trail. These are super fun to ride and we know you’ll enjoy it! It was the perfect project to honor Tim and his dedication to this park. Y’all – this isn’t your typical Hallmark-motivated Valentine’s – this is love in action. Evelyn and Tim – thank you. For your creativity, generosity, and hard work.

Have any of our parks been part of your love story? Send us a message. We’re featuring love stories all year! 😍

Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve Update!

Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve is 750 acres of beautiful nature land located about 25 miles due north of Asheville NC up against the Tennessee state line and the Appalachian Trail. It is perpetually conserved to remain natural and to have no cost public recreation.

In 2020 STPAL invested over $17,000 as a phase 1 the trail system restoration process. The restoration is for the purposes of improving public hiking use and for stream protection. The restored trails total about 4 miles. There is about another 4 miles to be restored in 2021. Ultimately additional trails will be built that are optimized for mountain bike usage.

In partnership with the Carolina Climbers Coalition a 3 phase project has begun to facilitate bouldering and other climbing activities. To date there have been 6 distinct bouldering areas inventoried with each having at least 50 problems (routes). The boulders are particularly well suited based on their locations, sizes, variety, and mineral composition. Upon completion of the 3 phases this site will likely become a regionally significant climbing resource.

In partnership with the Audubon Society, the USDA, and NC Forestry a project has begun to establish a habitat zone for migratory birds with a specific focus on the threatened Golden Wing Warbler. This project will be completed in 2022.

In 2020 the Friends of Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve was successfully launched. This group will provide support for STPAL’s mission related activities at the preserve.

2020 was a good year for Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve!

Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve 12 10 2020

2020 Fall Newsletter

Click the link below for STPAL’s 2020 Fall Newsletter:

STPAL 2020 Q3 Update

Jan Hill Lane Nature Preserve and Pocket Park, North Druid Hills (Atlanta), GA October 2020

General Position of Organization

  • The organization is stable and trending up in terms of organizational processes, committees, and planning.
  • 2020 and 2021 public recreation and environmental stewardship projects are moving forward with focus on long term site planning and addressing open local issues including property tax abatement, zoning, permits, and establishing friend groups.  
  • Financial health is good with 18 months operating funds available. Goal is to maintain minimum 30 months of operating funds. 2020 began with less than 12 months available.

2020 Top Internal Priorities

  • Establish processes for fundraising including individuals, corporations, foundations, and government grants
  • Board development including board member engagement, strategic recruitment of new members, and increased board impact on organization
  • Improve and activate STPAL’s mission storytelling. The newly formed STPAL Outreach committee has had two recent meetings. It is currently focused on upgrading
  • STPAL has a GuideStar Silver Seal of Transparency with a goal for Gold status.

2020 Top Mission Priorities and Updates

  • Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve (Western NC): The 16-acre habitat enhancement project for the threatened Golden Wing Warbler in partnership with the Audubon Society has begun. Major rehab project of the site’s 6+ mile hiking trail system will start by year end. The launch of the Friends group has been going well with key volunteers engaged. The first community information meeting was held via Zoom on October 14, 2020.
  • Burke County (GA) Nature Preserve: Moving forward with prep work to plant an additional 50+ acres of long leaf pine in spring 2021. Entrance sign ready to install.
  • Campbellton Creek Nature Preserve (South Fulton, GA): Working with Georgia Forestry Commission to create plan for installation of environmentally beneficial native trees, grasses, and other plant life. The trail system construction should occur in 2021 but there are still open planning and permitting issues.
  • Cannongate Nature Preserve (Coweta County GA): Establishing local leadership for launch of friends group. Getting 11 lots surveyed into one tract for simplicity and to impact property tax abatement efforts.
  • Jan Hill Lane Nature Preserve (DeKalb County GA): Continued non-native plant control and planting of native species this fall. Added two nature education signs in October 2020.
  • Pumpkinvine Creek Nature Preserve (Paulding County, GA): Park planning and initial due diligence beginning in early 2021.
  • Sassafras Nature Preserve (Gilmer County, GA): We decided not to apply for a Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program grant in 2020 in order to complete more site planning. The STPAL Board is considering the acquisition of significant contiguous land to support the public recreation trail system. Initial site assessment completed in conjunction with IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) which indicates the site’s location, terrain, and soil are favorable for a fun, quality, sustainable, and regionally significant trail system. Planning continues.
  • Sweetwater Pines tract: (Harris County, GA): Working with Georgia Forestry Commission to create site plan including establishment of 100+ acres of montane longleaf pine. The site’s location on a ridge near Pine Mountain is generally recognized as the approximate southern and western terminus of the species’ historical range in Georgia.
  • Turnipseed Nature Preserve (Douglas County, GA): Working with Georgia Forestry Commission to create a forestry plan that will include tree planting on about 50 acres. Trash trap installed on Annewakee Creek in conjunction with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is functioning well.

Jan Hill Lane Nature Preserve and Pocket Park North Druid Hills (Atlanta), Georgia October 2020
Annewakee Creek trash trap on Turnipseed property being cleaned. August 2020

Sassafras Nature Preserve Update

STPAL, Sassafras GOSP Grant Application, September 29, 2020

Earlier this year STPAL began the process to apply for a large grant through the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP). This is the second year of the program which designates a portion of sales tax revenues related to outdoor recreation to fund new outdoor recreation opportunities for Georgians. The grants are awarded to ambitious and regionally significant outdoor recreation projects. The Sassafras property is 1,000 acres and our intended plans will make for an attractive application and ultimately a high quality regionally significant park. Terry Palmeri took the lead with the local project committee and made great progress towards the effort. She has lined up local volunteer, government, and funding support for the project. However, with the application deadline arriving soon on October 16th we will wait to apply next year for the following reasons.

  • We were delayed starting the site planning due to Covid-19 slowing down life in general. We knew it would be a tight turn to get the plan in time, but we were optimistic. Unfortunately, we still do not have the initial concept plan for a first review by the project committee and the STPAL board. This also means we do not have proposed budgets either. This project is too big and important to rush into an application without well vetted planning.
  • The project will require matching funds from STPAL of around $500,000. Our hope is to use in-kind donations, fundraising, and other grants to offset much of the match. However, we still need about that amount to finance the work as it progresses. It is prudent and may be attractive on the grant application to have our funds in hand. We have a property scheduled to close in mid-November and another in mid-January. Assuming they close we are great shape. But with all the current uncertainty anything could happen.
  • The project site does not have access to a county road nor an obvious area for the basis of the common areas and event parking. We are still identifying possible remedies but settled on a strong initial possibility with the landowner family expressing some possible charitable intent. To use grant funds for land acquisition we need an executed real estate sales contract contingent on a successful grant application. We need two qualified appraisals to support the purchase price of their 100-acre farm. We just received the second appraisal last week which took longer than expected and was significantly lower than the first appraisal. We do not know which is correct. This makes the negotiations with the family more complicated. We are also at a disadvantage by not having site plans to inspire their generosity. And without site plans we do not really know for certain how ideal their property is for the project.
  • And finally, if we continue the planning, community connecting, fundraising, commitment getting, and even some site work we will be ready to apply next year properly and confidently. We will have the additional time to prepare and plan. STPAL’s ongoing organizational advancements will continue. And presumably the land sales will be completed. With these benefits the change in plans may not significantly delay the project’s completion.

This is disappointing but ultimately a positive step.

The following is a draft narrative description of the project.

Bill Jones

Executive Director, STPAL

August 27, 2020

Sassafras GOSP APP

Project Narrative (500 word max)

Sassafras Nature Preserve and Park consists of over 1,000 acres of natural land in Gilmer County, Georgia owned by 501-C-3 non-profit public charity Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, Inc, (STPAL). The initial phases of its transformation into a no cost public use recreation area will create regionally significant impact in the areas of economic development, public outdoor recreation, environmental stewardship, and public health.

The primary outcomes of the GOSP funding will be the acquisition of priority contiguous land, development of common area amenities, construction of 30 – 50 miles of multi-use (mountain bike, equestrian, hand cycle, hike, trail running) natural surface trail system, nature education elements, and habitat enhancement. The environmental stewardship efforts will prioritize Georgia DNR priority plant and animal species. Following this first phase of park creation there will be ongoing improvements such as: wildlife habitat projects; native plant propagation;  primitive, family, and RV camping areas; championship level disc golf course; adventure obstacle course; competition level archery range; radio controlled car and truck course; geocaching, demonstration garden and trellised apple orchard; playground; climbing walls; and other elements to be determined by user interest, environmental priorities, and remaining available land.

The planning and construction of the park will diligently adhere to prioritizing functionality balanced with minimal initial and ongoing expenses. For example, the trail system will be designed and constructed to fun and safe for all its user types. The rolling nearly southernmost Appalachian Mountain terrain advantageous to create a trail system appropriate for our objectives. The trail construction will utilize the most up to date best practices to be sustainable using proven techniques to mitigate the impact of heavy rain and usage. The trail system and common areas will be designed to accommodate regional and state level National Interscholastic Cycling Association competitions, mountain bike and trail running competitions including ones attracting out of state competitors, and other natural land appropriate events and festivals. The recreational elements will conform to their relevant and appropriate ADA requirements. Diversity of users is a priority goal.

The land acquisition achieves an optimal access point to a County road. It has advantageous terrain and past land usage adaptations for the common areas. The primary 100-acre acquisition tract includes the remnant of a long-time family home, large garden area, fishing pond, pastureland, and various age mixed hardwood pine forested areas. The dilapidated homeplace will be removed but the foundation will be used as the basis for a multi-use pavilion which will be the foundation of the cultural and historic elements.

Upon final site plan adoption +/- 500 acres of the site will be permanently conserved to remain natural and available for free public recreation usage. Upon park competition the balance of the Preserve will be conserved as appropriate. For example, the parking areas and park structures would be excluded. This conservation will in the form of a binding deed restriction and not create any tax related or other financial benefit to any entity. The only financial impact is STPAL’s loss of asset value which has a minimum value deduction of $2,000 per acre.

Sassafras Nature Preserve and Park will function as a local resource that will improve the day to day quality of life for the people of Gilmer, Fannin, Dawson, and Pickens counties. It will be beneficial for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and adventurous families from across Georgia. The trail system’s size, quality, variety, and common areas will attract day, weekend, and even full week visitors. Its usage for regional, state, and southeast US outdoor recreation-based events and competitions will bring sustained economic and community development to the north Georgia area. And it will enhance the “Mountain Bike Capital of Georgia” House Resolution 1611.

Update: Burke County Nature Preserve

July 31, 2020

Burke County (Georgia) Nature Preserve

Today STPAL finalized a contract to plant an additional 70 acres with long leaf pine seedlings at Burke County Nature Preserve. The planting will occur in spring of 2021. This will be the third consecutive year of planting.

For more information:

STPAL Mid-Year Report 2020

STPAL Mid-Year Report July 20, 2020

General Position of Organization

  • The organization is stable and feeling fine.
  • 2020 and 2021 projects are emerging from the Covid-19 pause. Momentum and interest for STPAL’s mission seems to be at an all-time high. Public access to nature is needed more than ever!
  • The first 2 months of consultant Victoria Previtt’s engagement have been beneficial and encouraging. She is providing leadership for our core internal priorities.
  • Finances are strong highlighted by a small land sale completed in July 2020. It is a core strategy of STPAL to self-fund operations to foster organizational financial stability. We sold 24.3 acres out of an initial 850-acre site netting enough funds for +/- 3 years of operational overhead expenses. This allows STPAL to allocate all other funding sources directly to mission work.

2020 Top Internal Priorities

  • Establish processes for fundraising including individuals, corporations, foundations, and government grants
  • Board development including board member engagement, strategic recruitment of new members, and increased board impact on organization
  • Improve and activate STPAL’s mission storytelling
  • STPAL has a GuideStar Silver Seal of Transparency with a 2020 goal for Gold status. This gives the organization a high level of credibility and builds public trust.

2020 Top Mission Priorities and Updates

  • Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve (Western NC): Approved for a grant of $10,295.84 from the USDA Equip program for a 16-acre habitat enhancement project for the threatened Golden Wing Warbler. The site has past observations of nesting pairs of GWW. Project is in partnership with the Audubon Society. Also preparing for an upcoming major rehab project of the site’s 6+ mile hiking trail system.
  • Burke County (GA) Nature Preserve: Plant 50 acres long leaf pine (completed as of March 2020), add STPAL sign at entrance, pollinator gardens refresh, moving forward with summer prep work to plant an additional 50+ acres of long leaf pine in spring 2021.
  • Campbellton Creek Nature Preserve (South Fulton, GA): Applying to rezone to AG per City’s requirement. Applying for grant funding for habitat and forest restoration projects. Finishing new trail system flagging and delineating parking and community areas.
  • Cannongate Nature Preserve (Coweta County GA): Established local leadership for launch of friends group. Applying for small grants to fund parking area, trails, priority habitat projects, and nature education elements.
  • Jan Hill Lane Nature Preserve (DeKalb County GA): Public use is strong. Invasive weeds are also strong. Main current goal is non-native plant control (mechanical, non-poison) leading to planting native species this fall.
  • Pumpkinvine Creek Nature Preserve (Paulding County, GA): Park planning and initial due diligence beginning.
  • Sassafras Nature Preserve (Gilmer County, GA): Major effort underway to create Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program grant application for a massive project including 40+ miles of hiking and biking trails. Full report to follow in early August.
  • Turnipseed Nature Preserve (Douglas County, GA): Trash trap installed on Annewakee Creek where it enters the preserve. Project is in partnership with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper with funding from Google.

Trash trap installed at Turnipseed Nature Preserve!

June 06, 2020

Something good happened today!

We appreciate the efforts of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Osprey Initiative with funding from Google. Today they installed and will maintain a buoy and drop net trash trap just after Annawakee Creek enters STPAL’s 287 acre Turnipseed Nature Preserve property in Douglas County, Georgia. Annawakee Creek flows into the Chattahoochee River about 5 miles from the preserve and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay.

For more information about trash traps:

Peace in nature

With apologies to the Beatles: When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Nature comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom. Let it be. Let it be.

Mission Statement: Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land makes use of natural land to foster natural land conservation; environmental stewardship; science education and research; and public recreation for the benefit of individuals and communities.

In times of trouble look for peace in nature.

A red bird visiting on a sad anniversary.

A cool breeze during an uphill hike in July.

A wildflower’s bloom in an unexpected place.

A deer that pauses to share a moment before continuing its foraging.

The quiet of a forest.

The noise of a mountain stream.

These things bring us closer to home when we find ourselves in times of trouble.

If you are interested in volunteering;

If you are interested in supporting our mission:

Happy Trails!