Key Chattahoochee River Tracts Protected (GA)

WHITE COUNTY, GA, 10/3/2003: The Georgia chapter of the Trust for Public Land (TPL-Georgia), a nonprofit land conservation organization, has recently acquired two important properties: one a virtually undeveloped stretch of land along the river, approximately 2 miles upstream from downtown Helen (formerly owned by the Abernathy); and the other, a little further downriver and the site of hand dug Cherokee Indian gold mines (known as the Hamilton tract).

Located in White County, along the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the 38-acre Abernathy tract (acquired by TPL from Mr. J.B. White) is one of the last remaining undeveloped parcels in North Georgia. The property is adjacent to the Chattahoochee National Forest, and is part of the Headwaters Area- an area identified as a “high priority” conservation zone by TPL-Georgia’s Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign.

“In the past five years we’ve help protect more than 70 miles of shoreline along the Chattahoochee River while adding 10,000 acres for recreation,” says Chris Deming, project manager for TPL-Georgia. “Because of where it was located and because of development pressure from Atlanta and no local zoning regulations, this was an important parcel to acquire.” Deming goes on to say that he hopes the White tract will eventually be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and will become part of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

J.B. White, a builder-developer from Jackson, Georgia, saw that this particular parcel was at risk and stepped in to purchase the land. Then he sold it to TPL.

“I’ve owned property in North Georgia since 1980,” says White. “And I know how important it is to protect these headwater areas. TPL has been very active in preserving land along the river and I’m just thrilled that I could be a part of that effort.”

“TPL was a wonderful organization to work with,” White continues. “Protecting the Chattahoochee isn’t just good for those of us who have property up here, but it’s good for all Georgians. There’s a few more parcels worth saving up here at the headwaters, and I look forward to helping the Trust for Public Land do just that.”

The property contains both bottomland pastures, and uplands with mixed hardwoods. The headwaters of the Chattahoochee River runs along the property’s Eastern boundary and contains roughly 2,300 feet of beautiful shoals and deep pools.

“There had been a lot of speculation about what might happen to this piece of property,” says Jim Kidd with the U.S. Forest Service. “Seeing the Trust for Public Land get involved was a welcome development. A lot of people are resting easier now, knowing that this beautiful piece of North Georgia will be protected forever.”

Helen Wilkens, City of Helen’s mayor is also pleased with the recent turn of events. “I’m extremely happy that TPL is working with us. We have had this vision of a magnificent greenway from Helen to Hardman Farm and beyond, and these acquisitions, along with our River Walk grant, give that vision a real head start.”

The 57-acre Hamilton tract is also located in the headwaters area. It is bisected by the Chattahoochee River, with roughly 1,500 feet of river running through it.

“The Hamilton property is really quite unique,” says Deming. “It’s not only an important acquisition because of the amount of river frontage it protects, but for its sheer beauty as well. The river running through the property contains beautiful shoals and deep runs.”

Deming continues, “It’s also historically significant. There are old gold mines on the property dating back to the 1880’s. And it is the only site in the world, according to one report, where every authentic form of historic gold mining took place, including hand dug Cherokee mines as early as 1500 A.D., dredge mining, placer mining, hydraulic mining, and hard rock vein mining.”

Legend says that a young Thomas Clemson found some gold nuggets while washing cooking skillets with sand in the Chattahoochee River-thus the first “gold rush” in the nation begun. Extensive gold mining operations followed.

“We set out to create a green corridor from Helen to Columbus,” recaps Deming. “Our goal has always been to help assure safe, clean drinking water, and to protect an oasis of natural habitat in the midst of a rapidly developing region while providing places for people to enjoy the river as a recreational venue. Not every one has a chance to make this kind of contribution, but J.B. White stepped up to the plate to help make this happen. And when we can combine drinking water protection with protecting our unique history, it’s a win-win for everybody. Both these acquisitions are testimony that we continue to make a great deal of progress, but there’s still a great deal to be done.”

About TPL-Georgia’s Chattahoochee River Land Protection Campaign: This riverway initiative was started in the mid 1990’s. The goal of the campaign is 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. As appreciation of the river’s unique value rise in both public and private circles, the Trust for Public Land, along with its other conservation “partners” (including federal and state environmental leaders, 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 life of so many Georgians, providing daily sustenance to more than four million people.