Georgia Southern University establishes first scientific field station on 1,400-acre gift from Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land

MAY 15, 2017

Georgia Southern University’s expanding campus just got 1,400 acres larger.

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.

We are done designing and flagging 12 miles of new multi-use trails at Talking Rock Nature Preserve!

BTJ map of TRBig 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.

2016 Quick Recap

Thanks to many generous supporters we were able to acquire 12 new properties and 3 conservation easements totaling 5,000 acres protected at sites across our service area.

We earned accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance. This rigorous 18 month process improved and verified our organizational excellence. Learn more about Accreditation: http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org/

We donated The Boot Nature Preserve to Douglas County, Georgia. The 80-acre tract is beautiful natural land along a little lake. Douglas County has already begun transforming it into a passive recreation park for the public.

We became the presenting sponsor of the 2017 Georgia Trail Summit. Registration is open at GTS2017

We began our first major park build at Talking Rock Nature Preserve. Phase 1 will about 6 miles of natural surface multi-use trails. We plan to add 6 additional miles of trails, a disc course, and park amenities.

At Bald Mountain Creek Nature Preserve in Northwest North Carolina, we funded the removal of a culvert stream crossing and replaced it with a bridge.  Local “friends of the nature preserve” completely handled the project for half of the expected cost.  It’s an important improvement for the stream and its native brook trout.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

We care about you on GA Gives Day

gacnp_cmyk_logo_2016_990STPAL cares about you on Georgia Gives Day and that’s why we conserve land.

Funding will support our efforts to design a story map about STPAL properties, lead a volunteer build of park trails, plant pollinator gardens, host nature programs and more. With dozens of parcels of conserved land envisioned for public use and environmental education, we are committed to conserve and activate these Georgia spaces for you!

15,000+ acres
23 properties (19 more coming)
in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

To donate, visit https://www.gagivesday.org/c/GGD/  and type STPAL in the search bar!

Pictures tell our story

If you are just discovering our organization, make sure you browse our photo gallery to get a glimpse of the properties we conserve. Many have tremendous assets already and on others we will cultivate environmental education to share with you.
red-thistle-field  stpal-image

A new park in Douglas County Georgia!

On June 15, 2016 we donated 85 acres of conservation land to Douglas County, Georgia for a new passive recreation park. Douglas County budgeted funds for a new passive park. We had land available for a new park. And now they have the land and the money. A new public park will soon be built!

This is a great deal for current and future Douglas County residents. Free is a fine price for their taxpayers! And the trees and critters that live on the site don’t mind either!

Much thanks to Douglas County Commissioner Mike Mulcare who came to us with a vision and for seeing it through to this great day. He is a big fan of parks and green-space and is leading the way for Douglas County to become known as a parks community.

We are thrilled and can’t wait to visit the new park once it is completed!

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STPAL 925 acre Land Donation to the State of North Carolina

In 2015 STPAL donated the fee simple ownership interest of the 925 acre Ginger Creek Nature Preserve to the State of North Carolina. We are very excited to make this gift to the people of North Carolina. The land will remain permanently conserved and available for public benefit.  The State’s press release follows:

 
Lenoir, North Carolina
January 19, 2016

The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land announced today that the 928-acre Little Beaver Creek Farm in Caldwell County has been donated to the state to be managed by the Research Stations Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The land, donated by the heirs of Tommy Johnson, had been in the Johnson family for decades. The North Wilkesboro native, had planned to donate the property to the state prior to his death. Johnson’s sons, Alan and Steve, offered to give the land to the state of NC in 2014, but the transaction did not close prior to year’s end.
STPL agreed to serve as intermediary until details could be worked out. The land trust owns conservation properties similar to Little Beaver Creek in Western North Carolina and throughout Georgia.
“Serving as a placeholder isn’t an uncommon role for our land trust,” said Bill Jones, STPAL founder and executive director. “More often, we take properties into permanent conservation, but accommodating both the Johnsons and the state was the right thing to do.”
The Research Stations Division will manage the property under the direction of David Schnake, management forester, as a working forest, while providing opportunities for research, teaching and demonstration for foresters and students.
“We are grateful for the Johnsons’ generous gift and the help of the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land,” said Sandy Stewart, director of the NCDA&CS Research Stations Division. “Without determined conservation heroes like them, complicated transactions like this one wouldn’t happen.”

 

Why we work

So we have started a new year. We are still working on uncompleted projects from years past. We are sorting through exciting new opportunities. We are tired from December’s hectic work of completing six real estate closings through which we received the donation of 2,700 acres of natural land. Five properties are in Georgia and the sixth is our first Tennessee property. But we push on and here is why.

I like parks. I have lived very close to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Atlanta for the last 35+ years and spent my younger years living near a large municipal park. I have always been just a short walk, bike ride, or drive away from walking trails, creeks, ponds, and natural areas. When I walk certain trails with my current canine companion I am reminded of Buddy, Belfast, Spike, and Simon and the many times they were with me on the same trail. And even today as I wind down from a long week I am writing this blog post as one last work item before Junebug and I head out for a nice 2-3 mile hike to separate the week from the weekend.

If we don’t create new parks who will? I am not sure where new parks rank on most taxpayers’ and politicians’ priority lists, but I suspect it may not be high enough right now. It is becoming time that people need to find other ways to get things done besides waiting on the government to do it. Our basic game plan is to secure fee ownership of land and then figure out how to make it into a park. Ultimately we expect for most if not all of our properties to end up in the hands of local, state or the federal government. In some cases we have found that a city or county will have the resources to build a park, but not the land. In that case we are happy to give our land to them right away so that the park will get built. In other cases a county or city may not have the money for the land or to build a park. In that case we’ll look for ways to build the park and then give it to the city or county. In some cases the local governments have no interest in our land or in a park.  In those cases we will keep the land and look for local partnerships to help us fund, build, and care for the parks long term. Our ultimate goal is to create 100 new parks by 2034. It is lofty but as of now seems very attainable. 100 new parks! Permanently conserved and mandated to remain parks. How much good is there in that? Let’s go!