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 www.stpal.org
  • 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. https://www.longleafalliance.org/what-is-longleaf/the-ecosystem/habitats/montane
  • 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:

https://stpal.org/2019/05/13/burke-county-natural-land-restoration-project-update/

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. www.stpal.org/donate

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: https://chattahoochee.org/our-work/in-stream-trash-removal/

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; info@stpal.org

If you are interested in supporting our mission: https://stpal.org/donate/

Happy Trails!

Talking rock nature preserve has Reopened

As of May 1st Talking Rock Nature Preserve has reopened for public use. It is a nature preserve as it’s first priority and is not meant for heavy recreational use. Our reason for reopening is for local hikers and mtn bikers to be able to stay local. We encourage everyone to use their local recreation opportunities. Stay home or at least stay close to home. If you arrive at TRNP and it is crowded or even close to being crowded please leave and come back at another time. Respect other park users and their social distancing efforts. Be kind, respectful, and accommodating.

COVID19 Announcement

March 26, 2020

All STPAL sites are closed for public usage until STAY AT HOME directives end. It is unfortunate as this seems like the perfect time to get outside and enjoy nature. We initially hoped to remain open, but reevaluated after seeing reports of other outdoor recreation sites being too crowded for safe social distancing.

STPAL Update 02/08/2020

  • STPAL 2019 land acquisitions:
    • 18 acre Cannongate Nature Preserve in Coweta County GA. It will have a parking area and +/- 2 mile loop bike/hike trail for public usage established in the first half of 2020. https://stpal.org/properties/cannongate-nature-preserve/
    • 35 acre Staraland Nature Preserve in Cherokee County GA. It’s conservation values are exceptionally high. Current priority is working to acquire contiguous and nearby tracts to expand the nature preserve. https://stpal.org/properties/staraland-nature-preserve/
    • Both tracts are now permanently conserved creating much needed natural land protection and active environmental stewardship in suburban Atlanta.
  • 80 acre Campbellton Creek Nature Preserve project in the City of South Fulton GA is heading quickly towards breaking ground with phase 1 consisting of 3 miles of hike/bike trails expected to open by the end of 2020. This site is very close to Fulton Industrial Parkway and SW City of Atlanta. http://campbellton-creek-nature-preserve
  • With support from IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) STPAL hosted a public meeting attended by about 60 interested people on February 1st to launch the Friends of Sassafras group for the 1,025 acre Sassafras Nature Preserve project in Gilmer County, GA. This ambitious project is 2-3 years from beginning the bulk of the park creation. It will require much more planning and money than our typical projects.
  • There will a planting of another 25,000+ long-leaf pine seedlings at Burke County Nature Preserve (near Augusta GA) in February or March. This 354 acre environmental restoration project is the conversion of fallow pasture land into native habitat. Passive public recreation and educational elements will be established over time.https://stpal.org/2019/05/13/burke-county-natural-land-restoration-project-update/
  • .4 acre Jan Hill Lane Nature Preserve in the north Druid Hills area of Atlanta had a walking path and other park elements established in 2019. It was STPAL’s first urban small parcel acquisition and a model for additional similar projects. It provides important public green space in a heavily developed area. Bird supportive elements will be added in 2020. A dog waste station and initial signage will be installed in February.
  • Environmental stewardship has become the primary focus at 210 acre Talking Rock Nature Preserve following the successful creation of 10 miles of hike/bike trails. In 2019 we completed the design and installation of educational signage along with a chimney swift tower using funding from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. http://talking-rock-nature-preserve-2019-chimney-swift-tower-and-nature-education-signage-project-completed
  • STPAL’s primary park building efforts will be focused on the I-85 corridor south from Atlanta for the next +/- 2 years. This provides efficiencies in travel and partnerships. We have 5 ongoing or pending projects that make a nice geographical line: Campbellton Creek NP, Cannongate NP, City of Newnan, Sweetwater Pines NP (near Callaway Gardens), and West Point Lake NP.

  • In early January 2020 STPAL completed a full IRS audit of our 2017 financials. The agent closed the case with only one trivial issue found, no action needed, and stated appreciation for STPAL’s recordkeeping and processes. STPAL has always and will continue having our financials independently and fully audited annually by a CPA firm that specializes in non-profit auditing. This made the IRS audit as painless as an IRS audit can be.
  • STPAL’s accounting and other internal processes are humming along allowing for mission related efforts to increase.
  • Organizational funding is stable. Establishing fundraising processes leading to creation of an endowment fund for long term stability is a primary objective of 2020.
  • STPAL and our projects have become attractive to grant funders. We have increased our grant applications and in 2019 received funding for specific projects via private and government grants.
  • STPAL’s Board of Directors’ priorities are near and long term staffing strategies, board development, and updating the strategic plan.
  • STPAL is starting its 9th year. Time flies.

Gum Branch Nature Preserve

In 2017 Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land donated 326 acre Gum Branch Nature Preserve to Camden (County, GA) Public Service Authority (PSA) and in 2019 STPAL donated an additional 33 acre contiguous tract. Gum Branch Nature Preserve is perpetually conserved natural land within the King’s Bay zone of far SE Georgia. It sits a few miles west of St. Mary’s and Cumberland Island. It is in the upper reaches of Gum Branch, which is a meandering branch flowing generally eastward to waters of the Crooked River and Cumberland Sound. It originally was composed of flatwoods type long-leaf and slash pine forest with heavy blueberry and gallberry under-story. Interspersed with this type would have been open pine, wet savanna, hardwood areas containing various bays, oaks, and gums, and stream-side cypress, gum, oak, and maple swamp. The north boundary coincides with Laurel Island Parkway, which is a heavily traveled access to Kings Bay Navy Base.

These photos are current (January 2020) and reflect the PSA’s progress establishing Gum Branch Nature Preserve’s public recreation functions. Plans include hard surface bike and ped trail, natural surface trails, and disc golf course. STPAL is proud to have played a part in the creation of this new public park and look forward to it being open for use.