108 Acres Added to Chattahoochee National Forest (GA)

White County, Georgia, 10/16/2007: When the Georgia office of the Trust for Public Land began its Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign in the mid 1990’s, its goal was to protect central Georgia’s drinking water and provide recreational opportunities by creating a 180-mile greenway along the banks of the Chattahoochee-a greenway that would stretch from Helen to Lake Lanier to Columbus, Georgia. And protecting the lands at the headwaters (where the Chattahoochee River begins) was among the program’s highest priorities.

In the last two years alone, TPL has protected more than 200 acres in the headwaters (including an 1860’s gold mine and the historic Hardman Farm) and is currently poised to permanently preserve an additional 108 acres. The most recent river initiative activity was the purchase of the Beutell tract-an important stretch of riverfront property in White County, 4 miles north of Helen, Georgia. The 108-acre tract was the northernmost privately held property on the river and a critical acquisition for the campaign. The property provides public access to the Chattahoochee River for fishing and is of special interest to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, a project of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan to protect, restore and enhance aquatic habitat throughout the range of Eastern brook trout. The property also contains potential habitat for a number of species that are rare in Georgia, including the red squirrel, pink and yellow lady slipper, and two varieties of ginseng.

“This was a ‘must-have’ acquisition in our long-range plan to protect the Chattahoochee and its tributaries,” says Chris Deming, TPL Senior Project Manager. “This property not only contains both sides of the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River, but two pristine tributary streams offering excellent fishing opportunities, amazing waterfalls and stands of large white pines and a variety of hardwoods. It’s a beautiful piece of property and will make an extraordinary addition to the Chattahoochee National Forest for use as a wildlife preserve and passive recreation area.”

“The Beutell tract was acquired for $2.426 million a few years ago. The Forest Service put in $1.3 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and we used $875,000 from a section 404 funding grant,” explains Deming. “And thanks to our fundraising success in the Chattahoochee River Land Campaign, we were able to donate $251,000 towards this project. The Forest Service had the property re-appraised prior to closing and the value came in at $3 million, so we were able to pass along significant savings to the Forest Service.”

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, U.S. Congressman Nathan Deal, and the late Congressman Charles Norwood were very supportive of the federal funding to protect this property.

“The Chattahoochee National Forest is a true Georgia treasure,” says Chambliss. “I applaud all the folks involved in the land protection campaign, for the vital role they have played in this conservation effort so our children and grandchildren can experience the same beauty and resources as we enjoy today.”

“This important piece of property represents a significant investment in Georgia’s rich natural resources,” Isakson says. “Protecting our state’s lands for future generations allows us to preserve our quality of life by providing recreational opportunities, as well as water quality, air quality, and aesthetic benefits.”

Kevin McGrath, Georgia’s head of Trout Unlimited’s Back the Brookie Program states that, “as part of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, the tributaries running through this property are being analyzed for their ability to hold and sustain the reintroduction of Southern Appalachian brook trout.”

In recent years, the population in the state of Georgia has grown rapidly to about nine million residents statewide. Half of these residents live in the Atlanta area and look north to the mountains for an enjoyable day hike, a weekend escape, or a paddle through whitewater. This desire to be in the mountains has resulted in the rapid development of second homes in north Georgia and increased recreational demands on the national forest.

“Development around Helen has been explosive over the past few years, with new subdivisions and second homes being developed on any available tracts along the Chattahoochee River and within the National Forest,” Deming continues. “Rapid development could have a negative effect on the character of this small mountain community by degrading scenic vistas, diminishing water quality, and limiting recreational opportunities. The Forest Service’s on-going stewardship of the Beutell tract will help protect water quality, forested views, and recreational access in the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.”

Jim Kidd with the US Forest Service readily agrees. “Growth in an area like Helen, Georgia is inevitable. So when you have the opportunity to permanently conserve a piece of property like this, you have to act quickly; and having conservation partners like The Trust for Public Land is an absolute necessity. Government can’t do it alone. It takes multiple funding sources, partnerships, and willing landowners like the Beutells who truly appreciate the value of the legacy they’re leaving behind.”

“Our parents bought the land in the 1930’s,” says former owner Tommy Beutell, a local entrepreneur and self-described conservationist. “And it was their wish even back then, and subsequently the wish of the rest of our family today, that the land be left undisturbed and never be developed. But we weren’t exactly sure how to go about preserving it.”

“The Trust for Public Land was a natural ally in this process,” Beutell continues. “They’re known for helping people like us get their property into the right hands so we can be sure that it will be protected forever. And they are doing just that!”

“White County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation as people seek to move to our little piece of paradise,” says White County Commission Chairman Chris Nonnemaker. “The commitment of the Beutell family and the support and fine work by the Trust for Public Land was critical in putting this important conservation project together. It is extremely reassuring to see this kind of cooperative conservation effort take place and I encourage more of it. When we’re proactive about preserving our special places, we demonstrate that we truly care about all of our natural areas, and that we also care about protecting our neighbors’ drinking water downstream and our other beautiful natural resources.”

The Beutell property also borders the Mark Trail Wilderness and lies within the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area, which provides visitors with hunting and fishing opportunities. Hunting, fishing and wildlife-related recreation supports many local economies and jobs in communities near outdoor recreation sites. In Georgia, hunting and fishing are an economic engine generating over $575 million in fishing-related retail sales and more than 10,750 jobs annually; and over $515 million in hunting-related retail sales and 10, 303 jobs.

As appreciation of the river’s unique value rises in both public and private circles, The Trust for Public Land, along with its other conservation “partners” (including environmental leaders, federal, state and local officials, citizen groups and private land owners), continues to protect endangered lands along the Chattahoochee River. No other natural resource plays such a vital role in the lives of so many Georgians, providing daily sustenance to more than four million people. To date, the Campaign has permanently protected more than 74 miles of river corridor and almost 15,000 acres of land.

While important conservation work continues along the entire length of the Chattahoochee River, current emphasis is on protecting its tributaries and headwaters in north Georgia near the City of Helen. In the last two years alone, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than 2,00 acres in the river’s headwaters (including an 1860’s gold mine and a key stretch of riverfront property in White County-the northernmost, privately held tract on the river and a critical acquisition for the campaign). The Trust for Public Land also recently conveyed land to the State of Georgia that links Smithgall Woods Conservation Area with the Hardman Farm State Historic Site and other points of interest in the historic Nacoochee Valley.