Staraland Nature Preserve

This property was donated to STPAL as deed conserved conservation land via fee simple deed transfer in 2019. This 35 acre tract of natural land is exceptionally diverse, interesting, and pretty. The property is in Cherokee County, GA contiguous to Garland Mountain Horse and Hiking Trails Park. Because the generous donor had the foresight and charitable intent to perpetually conserve the land prior to the donation it will forever remain natural and be beneficial to the public.

Property details:

General description of Property

The approximately 35 acre Property exists as a private natural area containing open areas, gas line right-of-way (ROW), pines, hardwood, mixed woodland and small creeks and springs in western Cherokee County, GA.  The Property is in the upper reaches of Pine Log Creek which flows into Salacoa Creek and part of the Coosawattee River Basin HUC 8 03150102.  The Property is located in the Coosawattee River/Pine Log Creek Watershed, HUC 10 0315010207

The Property is approximately 97% wooded and 3% open.  Historically the Property would have been a mixture of Mixed oak and pine in the uplands with mesic Hardwood along the creek.  The property has areas of older mixed hardwood and pine, planted pine,  open ROW, streams, and scattered rock shelters mixed in the steeper areas.  Some timber harvesting has occurred in the past.  Evidence appears that most of this was done more than 30 years ago.  The rock shelters,  mixed pine-hardwood forests and streams are the most distinctive feature of the Property and comprise the majority of the Property. A natural gas ROW bisects the Property from east to west.

The Property is in a rural area that has a number of housing developments.  The Property was most recently owned by a timber company and a portion was harvested and planted to pine approximately 30-40 years ago. Development has not occurred due to the steep hills and creek bottoms subject to flooding. Until the donation, the Property has been used for nature enjoyment, horse riding and hiking.  This area was the center of Cherokee territory in north Georgia and southern Tennessee. In the early 1820s, they made New Echota their capital.

There are trails in the wooded area, primarily used for hiking, occasional horse riding and nature enjoyment.  There is a small wooden fence and metal gate at the entrance.

Topography

The Property is rolling and varies from 900-1200 feet above MSL in elevation.  The highest point is near the boundary in the northern part of the Property and the lowest is on the southeast side.

Soils and geology

The Property is found in the Level III ecoregion known as the Blue Ridge. Landforms of the Blue Ridge range from narrow ridges to hilly plateaus to more massive mountainous areas with high peaks. The mostly forested slopes, high-gradient, cool, clear streams, and rugged terrain occur on a mix of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary geology. High peaks in this region may have annual precipitation of over 70 inches. The southern Blue Ridge is one of the richest centers of biodiversity in North America. Characteristic vegetation includes northern hardwood forest, submesic oak forests, heath thickets, shrub balds, hemlock-hardwood-white pine forests, cove hardwood forests, and mountain bogs. The three subdivisions of the Blue Ridge ecoregion in Georgia are the Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains, the Southern Metasedimentary Mountains, and the Broad Basins.

The Property is more specifically located within the Level IV ecoregion known as the Southern Metasedimentary Mountains.  The Southern Metasedimentary Mountains contain rocks that are generally not as strongly metamorphosed as those in the Southern Crystalline Mountains. The geologic materials are mostly late Precambrian and include slate, conglomerate, phyllite, metagraywacke, metasiltstone, metasandstone, and quartzite, with some schist and gneiss. Although the highest peaks are lower than in the preceding region, there are some isolated rugged mountains, such as the Cohuttas, Rich Mountain, and Fort Mountain.

The northern portion of the Cherokee Upland District is a rough, hilly surface with elevations ranging from 1300-1500 feet. Except for a few isolated mountains, elevations gradually decrease to 1000 feet in the southern part. The westward-flowing streams in the northern area occupy deep, narrow valleys 300-600 feet below the surrounding surface, while the southwestward flowing streams in the southern portion have wider, more open valleys 200-300 feet below the adjacent ridges. The eastern and southern boundaries are formed by the low, linear, parallel ridges of the Hightower-Jasper Ridges District.

Soils of the Talladega channery loam from 10-60% slopes make up the majority (68.8%) of the Property soils. The remainder of the Property soils include Chewacla-Cartecay complex and Masada gravelly loam.  USDA/NRCS classifies farmland as to relative value for agriculture.  These classes include Prime Farmland and Farmland of Statewide Importance.  The soils of the Property  are classed as not prime farmland.  Approximately 30% of the soils are rated as statewide important.

Water resources

The Property is within the Coosawattee Basin which becomes a part of the larger Coosa Basin.  As such, branches of Pine Log Creek bisect the Property and form a tributary of Salacoa Creek.  Salacoa Creek then flows into main branches of the Coosawattee River.  Primary tributaries of the Cooswattee River include:  Mountaintown Creek, Salacoa Creek, Talking Rock Creeks, Crane Eater Creek and several others.

The Coosawattee River begins at the confluence of the Ellijay and Cartecay rivers in the city of Ellijay in central Gilmer County. The river flows west through the foothills in the North Georgia mountains region and is a tributary of the Oostanaula River (which is a tributary of the Coosa River In Murray County, the river is impounded by Carters Dam, forming Carters Lake . Completed in 1977, Carters Dam is the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi River.   The Coosawattee river leaves the dam flowing west (directly into the Reregulation Reservoir) and briefly serves as the Murray-Gordon County line before entering Gordon County. Near New Echota, the Coosawattee meets the Conasauga River.

The main stem of Pine Log Creek bisects the Property with a smaller tributary, locally known as Cindy’s Creek flowing into Pine Log.  This results in approximately 3000 feet of intermittent and perennial streams within the riparian zone within Georgia Watersheds. Georgia SWAP documents designate Pine Log Creek as High Priority Species stream.

Vegetation and habitat

The approximate acreages of each type are as follows: mixed hardwood pine forest (20.0 acres); planted pine forest (14 acres). The natural gas ROW covers approximately 1 acre.  Contained within this complex are scattered areas of large rock shelters and numerous springs.  Mixed hardwood-pine forest, Rock shelters, and Streams occur on this Property and are  listed as high priority habitats  in the Blue Ridge Ecoregion of Georgia by GADNR SWAP documents.

The hardwoods consist of mixed hardwood pine forest and occur over roughly 70% of the Property.  The hardwood pine contains mostly 40-plus year old trees with hardwood predominating.  The dominant overstory species in this older forest are tulip poplar, chestnut oak, red maple, silver maple, white oak, various red oaks, and scattered loblolly pine.  The midstory and understory includes a mix of woody and herbaceous vegetation, including black gum, sourwood, muscadine, ironwood, eastern hophornbeam, hazel alder, pawpaw, chalk maple, Christmas fern, dogwood, nettles, sweetgum and oak saplings, greenbrier, Japanese honeysuckle and blackberry.  Other understory species noted include Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild bean, climbing hydrangea, mountain camellia, fire pink, mayapple, rue anemone, false solomon seal, and trillium.

Exotic plant species were noted on the Property, including Japanaese honeysuckle, Chinese privet, and crabgrass. These are not widespread and can be controlled.

Agricultural Resources

There are no agricultural operations on the Property.

Wildlife

Field signs and individual sightings during the field surveys noted the presence of the common wildlife species of the Blue Ridge Ecoregion of Georgia.  This included raccoons, opossums, gray squirrels, nuthatches, titmice, water snakes, and crows.  Other mammals such as wood rats, voles, and shrews may also be present.  A variety of native reptiles and amphibians are also likely to be here including various non-venomous water snakes, rat snakes, king snakes, fence lizards, copperhead snake, green tree frog, fence lizard, and green anole.  Numerous resident and migrant songbirds and other common landbirds were seen and heard while inspecting the tract; including cardinals, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, and others. Expect to find the normal complement of Blue Ridge region wildlife given the existing habitat types and surrounding land use.

Rare or endangered species known to exist

The technical teams identified 89 high priority animal species in the Blue Ridge ecoregion. These included 9 birds, 14 mammals, 2 reptiles, 3 amphibians, 35 fish, 3 mollusks, 9 aquatic arthropods, and 15 terrestrial arthropods. In addition, 66 species of high priority plants were identified for the Blue Ridge.

No endangered or threatened species are known to occur on the Property.  A full rare species survey was not conducted, but suitable habitat exists for some rare species in habitat of the Property.  Among rare and unusual plants for this region, the following are species found in the Georgia DNR SWAP documents that could occur on this site:

Cypripedium acaule  (Pink ladyslipper)

Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow Ladyslipper)

Lysimachia fraseri            (Fraser’s Loosestrife)

Solidago porteri   (Porter’s Goldenrod)

These animal species of concern known to occur in the region around the Property may find suitable habitat in the hardwood forests:

Desmognathus aeneus (Seepage salamander)

Myotis septentrionalis     (Northern Myotis)

Etheostoma scotti            (Cherokee Darter)

Additionally, neotropical migrants like the yellow-billed cuckoo, flycatchers, and various warblers, utilize mixed hardwood habitat; so could occur on this Property naturally.

Cultural Resources

There was no evidence of historically or archaeologically significant structures.

Scenic Character and Views from public roads/waters

The Property is visible from Hwy 140 and along trails existing on the Property.   There is approximately 850 feet of road frontage and is easily viewed across the existing road ROW.

. Existing man-made structures

The following man-made structures were noted on this tract: trails mostly along the stream courses(0.5 mi.), natural gas ROW(0.14 mi.), temporary walkboards on creeks, entrance road(0.3 mi.), underground power supply and aboveground distribution boxes, green cemetery Memorial site, temporary horse pens, campsite benches and tables, and temporary picnic shelter.

Evidence of past disturbances

No evidence of heavy storms, fires, or other large scale events was noted during visit.

Former land uses

Evidence of past land use is noted in the pine forest and well maintained entrance road and trails .  The most noticeable activity in the past 60 years has been pines planted by a previous timber company landowner.

Current land uses

Current use is for hiking and nature observation.  It is important to the Property holders that it serve as a natural wooded buffer to the surrounding developments and provide outdoor recreation to the landowner and guests.  The campground on site is low impact and serves the landowner for this type recreation.

There is also a large county recreation park, known as the Garland Mountain Horse and Hike Trails (GMHHT).  This park has 19.7 miles of public use trails.  Some use may occur between this Property to the adjacent county park.  No recent commercial uses have been made of the Property.

Management Plan in effect, if any

A formal management plan is in place for the tract. The overall plan is to use the tract for nature observation, hiking/outdoor recreation, conservation value and wetland protection as detailed in this report.  No commercial forestry will be conducted. Leave dead, fallen, and dying trees alone unless there is a safety issue or a tree disease management issue.

Zoning and local plan restrictions if relevant

There are no known relevant zoning or plan restrictions currently in force that affect the planned use of this property.  The current county tax documents list the zoning class as A-Agricultural.

Adjacent land attributes, uses, existing and potential conflicts

The Property is adjacent to multiple house lots and apartments. There are no known conflicts between adjacent owners.  As noted above, the Property is adjacent to the county park.  This is not considered to constitute a conflict

Amount and type of current public access and public use

Casual hiking  and wildlife observation by the landowner and guests occurs at current time.

Evidence or presence of hazardous waste

No evidence of hazardous waste was noted during field visit.

Proximity to other protected land

The Property is situated within 10 miles of several other protected lands including public and privately owned greenspace, conservation easements, and park tracts. The protection of these additional lands in proximity to existing protected lands will extend wildlife travel corridors, improve habitat availability and connectivity and the public with healthy natural environment for nature appreciation.

Summary of Conservation Values

The current owner has decided to place the Property under conservation easement protection or conservation deed restrictions.  Values protected include streams, mixed hardwood-pine forests, rock shelters.  These items were also listed above.   Additionally,  the healthy natural woodland and open area provide a restful environment for casual trail use and wildlife appreciation

This protected Property will help conserve the water resources noted in the Coosawattee River, Salacoa Creek and Pine Log Creek watersheds and contribute to protection of the waters of Coosa River. Pine Log Creek is designated as a High Priority Species stream by the Georgia SWAP documents.  The waters and environs of the larger Coosa River drainage basins are designated High Priority Species and Aquatic Community streams.  Conserving high priority rivers and streams is of particular importance since protection of these hydrological systems through enhancement of stream buffers, and reduction of non-point pollution is critical for protecting water quality.  Nonpoint-source pollution consists of mud, litter, bacteria, pesticides, fertilizers and a variety of other pollutants being washed into rivers and streams by rainwater.  The Property with buffers on Pine Log Creek will protect water quality thereby providing significant public benefit.

In addition, the United States Forest Service has recognized the important public benefits provided by privately held woodlands, including the enhancement and protection of ground and surface water quality.

Protecting streams and rivers will also provide valuable riparian habitat to rare or unusual plants and animals occupying these unique areas.  Protecting stream buffers will also provide travel and dispersal corridors for many of the species needing protection in the surrounding habitats.

Protecting this Property will provide high-quality natural wildland habitat.  The site will preserve valuable natural areas containing High Priority Habitats in Georgia, including important habitat combinations for year-round resident songbirds and birds of prey, valuable stop-over and migration sites for many birds, rare and common, including some neotropical migrants whose numbers continue to decline.  Additionally, availability of public hiking and nature appreciation will be maintained and enhanced.

The High Priority habitats on the Property include:  Streams; Mixed Oak Pine Hardwood Forest; Rock Shelters.

 

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