STPAL’s land holdings include many tracts that are undergoing environmental enhancement and restoration. One such tract is currently known as Burke County Natural Land. It is just south of Augusta, Georgia. The county seat of Burke County is the pretty town of Waynesboro.
This 354-acre tract consists of 95% old pasture and 5% wooded land and is generally bounded by small landowners and rural woodland/farmland tracts. The pasture is naturally succeeding to brush and tree saplings. The wooded areas are small clumps of mixed pine hardwood that was cutover prior to STPAL’s acquisition. The tract was originally a mix of longleaf pine on the sandier uplands, including some scrub oak and other hardwood. The lower, more moist areas would have been a hardwood and mixed pine hardwood forest. It is within the Fall Line Sand Hills, an important ecological region of Georgia. The Sand Hills are a narrow, rolling to hilly, highly dissected belt stretching across the state from Augusta to Columbus. The region is composed primarily of Cretaceous and Eocene marine sands and clays deposited over the crystalline and metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont. Soils are mostly excessively well drained and low in nutrients, although soils in some areas contain more loamy and clayey horizons. The driest sites have typical sandhill vegetation characterized by longleaf pine and turkey oak. Other areas have shortleaf-loblolly pine forests or mixed oak-pine forests.
The land was almost certainly put into cotton production after the native long leaf pines were harvested. It was largely neglected for many years prior to STPAL’s acquisition in 2016. The neglect allowed kudzu, Bermuda grass, Japanese honeysuckle, Callery or Bradford pear, Chinese privet, chinaberry, crabgrass, bahia grass, and other non-native plants to proliferate.
In considering STPAL’s land holdings it was likely the least beneficial to wildlife and people. It was certainly the least attractive. So STPAL prioritized it for an intensive rehabilitation process with the goal to maximize its value as conservation land and then open it up for no cost recreational and educational public usage. It is currently available for public small game hunting via the Georgia Department of Natural Resources VPA program.
In 2018 the STPAL Board made the hard decision to utilize chemical spraying to aggressively clear 60 acres of well-established invasive plants. The vote was not unanimous. But the primary aspect that motivated the action was that the one-time spraying would allow for a dramatic transformation that over time should outweigh any harm done by the chemicals. There was careful consideration of the chemicals, the application process, and the area sprayed (i.e. not near any water). The Georgia Forestry Commission was hired to cut a grid of fire breaks to allow for future ground cover control to be done via controlled burning.
In March of 2019 54 acres were hand planted with long leaf pine seedlings. Once the seedlings emerge from the bush stage (3-5 years) appropriate native ground cover will be established. The general plan going forward is to plant two additional +/- 50-acre sections in long leaf pine with a gap year between each planting. The long leaf seedlings are planted at a density that should yield a sustainable natural density. There is a failure rate for the seedlings of 10-35% which should create a randomness to the forest’s density. Native appropriate plants will be added to the open spaces. There are no plans to ever do any commercial harvesting of the long leaf pines. The areas not planted with long leaf pines will be transitioned into other typical native habitats with areas such as mixed pine & hardwood stands, grasslands, and transition areas. The goal is to return the tract to its presumed native state. It may take 75-100 years to achieve, but it should be worth the wait.
As the site develops it will be improved as habitat for wildlife such as white-tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, parula warbler, gray squirrel, hooded warbler, tufted titmice, northern bobwhite, cardinal, nuthatch, blue jays, field sparrow, yellow-breasted chat, several woodpecker species, northern mockingbird, green frog, southern toad, bobcat, gray fox, fox squirrel, wood rat, vole, and shrew. A variety of native reptiles and amphibians are likely including various non-venomous water snakes, black rat snake, copperhead snake, canebrake rattlesnake, green tree frog, fence lizard, and green anole.
Rare and endangered plant species could likely include Caroline pink, Georgia aster, sandhill rosemary, hooded pitcher plant, pink lady slipper, and sandhill milkvetch. Rare and endangered wildlife could likely include Bachmann’s sparrow, Southeastern pocket gopher, painted bunting, and southern hog-nose snake. There should be neotropical migrants like the gray catbird, yellow-breasted chat, field sparrow, loggerhead shrike, and prairie warbler.
To date STPAL has about $30,000 invested in the restoration process and pays about $6,000 in annual property taxes for this site.
The following is a quick summary of STPAL’s primary park building project – Talking Rock Nature Preserve as well as the most up to date trail map.
They are split into 3 groups based on STPAL’s commitment to providing low-impact outdoor recreation, environmental stewardship, and educational opportunities for the local community.
Something good is happening in Atlanta…. a new park!
STPAL has received the donation of .4 acres of natural land in the North Druid Hills area of Atlanta. It is a triangle shaped corner lot that will be a permanent pocket park for the community. The generous land donor used goats to clear out an English ivy infestation prior to the donation! Over the next 6-12 months it will get a walking path, unobtrusive signage, native plant plantings, benches, and other elements that will improve the land for nature and the community.
Want to help with this park?: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve been following STPAL’s development for a while, then you’d know that in October of 2015 we donated 160 acres of greenspace known as Connors Road Park to the city of Villa Rica.
Well, now the Villa Rica, with the help of PATH Foundation and Kaizen Collaborative, is planning to build out a 22.6-mile trail system all throughout the city known as the Gold Nugget Trail, and, of course, a major section of this trail is going to be built all throughout Connors Road Park!
While the development of these trails may be a couple years away, this is still great news!
Ever since we gave the land to Villa Rica, STPAL was hoping that the city would build it out into a proper passive recreation park, and what is a park without walking and biking trails?
The story of Connors Road Park is far from over, so expect us to keep you all up to date with any important happenings on the project.
If you are interested in how the Gold Nugget Trail system will look or how it came to then feel free to check out the presentation at the link below.
July 2, 2015. Representatives from STPAL, the City of Villa Rica, and community members touring Connor Road Park. This group worked to complete the transfer of the park on October 23, 2015.
So much has been happening at Talking Rock Nature Preserve that it is truly staggering! Without further ado, here are some of the new and exciting developments going on:
The 2.75-mile green trail loop (now known as Jon’s Trail) was completed. It was designed and built to be smooth with no roots and rocks. It’s great for mountain bikers of all ages and abilities with no steep hills anywhere to be found. Newbies and veteran bikers often come up to us and say that it’s one of the most fun trails in North Georgia!
The blue trail loop of 1.25 miles (now known as Nitro Nix South), as well as the Preserve parking lot, has been completed. This second loop is fundamentally the same as the Jon’s Trail, but it is a much faster ride that is meant for cyclists with a little more mountain biking experience.
North of the parking lot is the other completed blue trail (now known as Nitro Nix North). It is a 1-mile down-and-back that stretches from our parking lot to the Northern-most point of the property. This trail is slightly more tricky to ride than its neighbor, Nitro Nix South.
The fourth and fifth trails, stretching 0.3 and 0.7 miles respectively, were also completed. They are both designed for foot traffic and those looking to run or walk through nature without needing to constantly be on the lookout for oncoming cyclists. The 0.3-mile orange trail (now known as Pollinator Walk) takes you from Jon’s Trail up to the pollinator garden and beehives at an easy incline designed with small children and elderly people in mind. The 0.7-mile red trail (now known as Charlie’s Trail) is a loop that is slightly more difficult than Pollinator Walk but makes up for it by taking you through some of the most beautiful parts of the Preserve including a pleasant walk alongside a bubbling creek. This trail is unique in that before 5:00 PM it is a foot traffic only trail, but after that, it becomes a shared trail for both bikers and walkers/runners.
For the younger riders who are looking for something a little bit different, we have also begun construction on a bike park at Talking Rock. It currently has a small pump track and a downhill run we hope to unveil in the near future with 2-4 more downhill runs still in the planning stages.
Map of the Property 6/27/18
We have also begun planning out the final 5-6 miles of trails. We would love to create an enormous trail section with steep hills, jumps, rock gardens, and other features for serious riders that will stretch from the northern border of the Preserve to the southern border. It will be the hardest trail by far (a double black diamond), and we are currently in the process of raising funds for its construction.
We celebrated our Trail-Dedication ceremony and Bike Demo Day on May 5th, 2018. With the help of Cartacay Bike Shop, Jamis Bikes, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Anytime Fitness, we were able to come together and celebrate all of our hard work and test the capacity of the Preserve at the same time! So many of the local community and volunteers came out to mark the day as a truly special celebration for people all over North Georgia. We hope to put on more events and celebrations as the Preserve continues to expand and solidify itself as an important part of the community.
The main infrastructure at the Preserve has been established as well. Much of the signage has been installed, a porta-john near the parking lot has been installed, bike borders are now at road-trail intersections, message boards with maps and other park information have been put up, and now, we have more than 30 wooden benches and 10 picnic tables that community members can sponsor. We even built a closed-off apiary for beekeepers in the area to house their beehives and teach others all about bees and other North Georgia pollinators.
Speaking of the local Pickens community, we have saved one of our proudest accomplishments for last. We have established a successful community group for the park called the Friends of Talking Rock! We have about 20 core members in the group as well as many others who are involved in one way or another. The Friends of Talking Rock have even begun to divide into a few smaller subgroups. Groups interested in hiking, running, conservation, and beekeeping have all sprung up because of the Friends. And, we believe that none of the successes of the group could have been accomplished without the excellent help of Susan Crain, who acted as a paid consultant and wonderful volunteer for the project.
Thanks to everyone who has helped make the first six months of this Talking Rock Nature Preserve experiment the grand slam that it is, and we hope to be here in another six months with even more great news to share.
While we know that this isn’t the greatest format for our blog, as we usually post about building trails and conserving land, the Southeastern Trust would still like to take the time to share some of its more higher level operations for the sake of easy access and transparency.
If you find what we do at STPAL interesting and would like to volunteer in order to help complete our mission on a more organizational level, then please contact us by:
Emailing us at email@example.com or Leaving us a Message at 678-974-2609
Strategic Plan, Core Statements, Priority Impact, and Mission Goals:
“Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land conserves and enhances natural lands for present and future public benefit.”
Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land will have diverse community-based partnerships for conservation, education, and public recreation.
Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land was formed for the purposes of conserving land, providing public benefit, and to be a model public charity. Therefore, STPAL shall function with the highest ideals. It shall always seek the greatest benefit towards its mission in all cases. It shall function with transparency. It shall make decisions that are always biased towards land conservation and public benefit.
Board of Directors
|Trace Copeland – President|
|Eric Nelson – Past President|
|Stephen Arms – Treasurer|
|Ryan M Schuldt|
|Deloyd Johnson – accounting|
|Laurel Florio – legal consultant|
|Pam Young – organizational consultant|
|Vic VanSant – land consultant|
|Bill Jones – Executive Director|
|Sam Seymour – Project Manager|
Press Release for Donation of Land to Barrow County School System December 18, 2017
The Barrow County School System is pleased to announce that on Monday, December 18, 2017 the Barrow County School System and the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land executed a Deed of Gift Deed document. The signing of this instrument made it possible for the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land to donate two parcels of land along Highway 53 to the Barrow County School system. These parcels totaling just over 90 acres will be used by the System’s agriculture programs to expand opportunities for hands on learning activities associated with agriculture education and natural resource conservation. “We are very thankful and excited about the donation of this land because it will expand the agricultural education opportunities for Barrow County students, and increase their awareness of conservation and stewardship,” said Ashley Best, Agriculture Educator and FFA Advisor for Barrow County Schools.
The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) was founded in Georgia in 2012 and is a 501-C-3 trust based in Cobb County dedicated to responding to the need for preservation of undeveloped or restorable land in various areas and making it available for responsible use by local communities. STPAL has taken ownership of over 10,000 acres of natural land across 36 properties in various counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. For more information or a complete list of properties, visit the STPAL website at www.stpal.org. STPAL executive Director, Bill Jones, notes, “Donating these tracts of farm land to the Barrow County School System is an outstanding example of a public private partnership. It fulfills STPAL’s mission to provide public benefit using permanently conserved natural land. STPAL appreciates the efforts of State Representative Terry England, Ashley Best, and others within the Barrow County Schools Agriculture Program to make this transfer a reality and looks forward to seeing the property becoming a valuable resource for agricultural education in Barrow County.”
We are building a park in Talking Rock, Georgia!
Talking Rock Nature Preserve provides a vast scenic view that “speaks” to all that take timeout, stop, observe and listen. Your heart, mind and soul will become captivated as you sit among the rocks and scan the pristine landscape allowing your senses to absorb all that abounds. Talking Rock includes 220 acres of natural beauty that provide a glimpse into a multitude of ecosystems, opportunities for environmental education and a diverse mix of passive recreational experiences open to the public.
Talking Rock Nature Preserve was donated to Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) in 2012. Desiring to preserve the natural land while providing experiences for the general public, STPAL embarked on a park plan visioning and designing phase. A Master Vision Plan has been created and amenities will be implemented in phases and as community support allows. The Vision calls for some opportunities not currently found in Pickens County.
Talking Rock Site Plan includes:
Preserve/Park Status Update
The forested preserve provides opportunities to improve unnaturally dense or diverse forest and flora. This preserve has historically been used for timber production. In 2014, a selective tree harvest was completed to improve the health of the forest and create more diverse habitat areas.
The 12 mile trail system has been flagged and is being constructed. Funds have been raised for the first 5 miles of the trail system. The first loop of 2.75 miles is completed and being used by bikers and walkers. It was designed and built to be a smooth with no roots and rocks. It is good for mountain bikers of all ages and abilities. There are no steep hills to climb or go down. It is fun. The second loop of 1.75 miles and the parking area will be complete by mid December. This second loop is fundamentally the same as the other loop but it will be a much faster ride and meant for riders with some mountain biking experience. The final 5-7 miles will feature a trails and sections with steep hills, jumps, rock gardens, and other features that will appeal to serious riders. Yes, we think we are building a trail system for everyone to use and enjoy. And, of course hikers / walkers are welcome on the entire system. For safety and enjoyment walk the opposite of the riders (directions are posted at trail heads) and step off the trail for a moment as bikers pass. Bikers slow down when passing walkers. We expect to formally open the park and have a ribbon cutting sometime in January.
Currently two Boy Scout Eagle Projects are underway. There are many Eagle Project opportunities so if you are considering your project and community impact check out our Wish List.
How Can You Help?
A Talking Rock Friends Group is now being formed. As a nonprofit, volunteers and community support are crucial to progression of the park. Friends may help during volunteer workdays, raise funding to support park elements but most importantly, provide input into desired park elements. Your engagement will help Talking Rock to become a best kept secret in the greater Pickens Community.
Donate funds to help provide an element for the park. Naming opportunities are available and information is available by contact STPAL.
Sponsor a wish list item or Boy/Girl scout Eagle or Gold project.
Don’t forget to follow us on FaceBook: Talking Rock park Facebook page!
Location/Directions to Property
The Talking Rock Property (the “Property”) is located adjacent to Old Whitestone Road East and is bisected by Carnes Mill Road. From Atlanta, travel north on Highway 575 and continue on 515 (Zell Miller Parkway). Turn left onto Carnes Mill Road and travel 0.73 miles to the southern property boundary. The Property borders both sides of Carnes Mill Road for an additional 0.5 miles.
While the University is working on the upcoming consolidation with Armstrong State University located in Savannah and Hinesville, and an enlarged student population of 27,000, the Statesboro-based University has acquired its first permanent scientific field station.
Known as the Effingham Wetlands, the parcel measures about 1,400 acres and was recently donated by the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) to the Georgia Southern University Foundation with the express purpose of using the property as a vibrant living laboratory.
Georgia Southern President Jaimie L. Hebert, Ph.D., explains, “Because this large tract of undeveloped natural wetland is embedded in one of the most rapidly developing areas in Georgia, just 12 miles northwest of downtown Savannah, we felt compelled to take advantage of the opportunities this property provides for the University. It will become a tremendous resource over time for our student and faculty scientists, especially those in the College of Science and Mathematics.”
According to STPAL’s field studies, the property located in Effingham and Chatham counties, is approximately 841 acres of cutover and regenerating pine; 231 acres of riparian wetlands; 68 acres of hardwoods; 40 acres of mature pine; 15 acres of open grasslands and about 7 acres of small ponds. The major water feature is St. Augustine Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River.
The site will soon become a rich resource for ongoing scientific research where long-term field experiments will monitor the property’s varied ecology. Examples of natural features to be studied include its native plants, surface and sub-surface water flow, soil biota, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fungi, bird migration and potentially many other learning opportunities. The site is even ideal for studying the region’s tick and mosquito populations.
While the property is largely a wetland habitat, it’s also a marvelous mix of forest and other Coastal Plain habitats lending itself to meaningful research that could yield answers for real-world issues. As Georgia Southern faculty and students collect valuable data in a protected setting, their findings could result in better policy decisions on how natural resources are managed for economic benefits while preserving cleaner water and healthier soils. Georgia Southern scientists will have the ability to take control of the site without fear of theft or disturbance of their scientific equipment.
“This wetland extends and enhances the learning environment beyond the classroom giving faculty, graduate students and undergrads advanced training in the scientific method by doing actual hands-on research in their chosen field of study,” says Martha Abell, Ph.D., dean of the University’s College of Science and Mathematics.
Stephen P. Vives, Ph.D., department chair and professor of biology, says, “Restoring previously logged areas is a growing field with an emphasis on returning habitat to its previous condition and increasing species diversity. Research performed here can be a valuable contribution to the larger body of knowledge on this important subject.”
Another hot topic among forest experts is the symbiotic relationship between soils, fungi and trees related to forest health – “one more fruitful line of research now available to Georgia Southern student scientists,” Vives adds.
Kelly Pope, senior director of development for the University’s College of Science and Mathematics, represented Georgia Southern University Foundation throughout the process.
Charles McMillan, coastal director of the Georgia Conservancy and a member of STPAL’s advisory board, commends STPAL and Georgia Southern for taking the lead in crafting such an innovative partnership. “The Georgia Conservancy would like to see similar arrangements between land trusts and universities in Georgia,” adding, “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”
McMillan reminds us that ecology is a relatively young science with most discoveries taking place in the last 50 years. “It’s possible that Georgia Southern student scientists can make significant, new contributions to existing knowledge on how wetlands function.” He explains, just like “the liver and lungs of the body,” wetlands remove toxins and provide oxygen. He believes “the more we know, the better informed we will be to set public policy to manage water resources more effectively.”
About Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land
STPAL has acquired 35 properties in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina totaling about 15,000 acres. The Georgia Southern Effingham Wetlands site was donated to STPAL by a generous individual. STPAL then placed deed restrictions on the parcel to ensure it would be conserved perpetually and never developed.
All STPAL properties are protected with various forms of conservation statuses; many are slated to become public parks.
Bill Jones, STPAL’s executive director, remarks, “We are thrilled to be part of this creative partnership which maximizes the benefits of such a large tract. Now Georgia Southern scientists will elevate its value as conservation land to an even higher level by conducting meaningful scientific research here with long-term implications.”
In fact, university-held properties, field stations and marine labs are playing valuable roles around the world to study climate change, biodiversity loss, pollinator decline and invasive species biology.
Over time, Georgia Southern scientists plan to restore the property to natural habitat types and divide it into management zones with restoration targets.
Eventually, the property will also be shared with local K-12 students as an educational resource, and guided field trips will be encouraged for targeted groups like the Ogeechee Audubon Society whose members can assist with annual bird counts.
According to an advisory board with extensive land management experience who analyzed the site on behalf of Georgia Southern, their report concluded, “This property is large and diverse and would have value for field trips in at least 10 upper level courses. The Effingham Wetlands property will strengthen the potential for meaningful field-based research experiments by students and faculty. “
Only time will tell what they might discover.
About Georgia Southern University
Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research University founded in 1906, offers 119 degree programs serving 20,673 students. Through eight colleges, the University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs built on more than a century of academic achievement. Georgia Southern is recognized for its student-centered and hands-on approach to education. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.
Big News! We have now completed flagging for 11.86 miles of multi-use natural surface trails at Talking Rock Nature Preserve. Our cost to do this was about $1,000 per mile.
We are working with Pickens County to get their approval to build the first 5-6 miles of trails! We have about $75,000 allocated for that and can’t wait to get it going.
Something good is happening in Pickens County Georgia!
Follow the progress here and on the Talking Rock facebook page and give it a LIKE while you are there.