by Carla on May 30th, 2018

Conservation Coordinator Joins Land Trust

A former environmental analyst with the University of Georgia has joined ORLT as conservation coordinator.

Margaret Myszewski spent a decade at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government focusing on issues concerning land use, sustainable development, water quality, and climate change.

Most recently, she was program coordinator for the Georgia Coastal Research Council at UGA, an organization focused on improving scientific exchange between coastal scientists and decision makers in Georgia and promoting the incorporation of the best available scientific information into state and local resource management.

A native of Iowa, Margaret earned her bachelor’s degree at Drake University in Des Moines. She holds a master’s degree in Medical Microbiology from UGA and earned her law degree at the University of Oregon with an emphasis in environmental and natural resource policy.

by Carla on May 30th, 2018

By Carla Francis, Outreach and
Development Coordinator

Having recently returned from a wolf tour of Yellowstone National Park, Karen Middendorf sat down for an interview. Enthusiastic descriptions of wolves, elk, and moose followed. “She’s one of us,” I quickly gathered.

Middendorf, who joined the ORLT board in February, has been involved in the Athens community for many years. She is the founder of Firehall 4 Animal Hospital, a 10-year member of the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission, and a founding member of the Piedmont Gardeners.

A resident of Clarke County for nearly 40 years, she originally hails from Huntingburg, Indiana. A handful of years after earning her undergraduate degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Purdue University, she and her late husband, Wayne, moved to Athens. There they raised 4 children on their horse farm in northwestern Clarke County.

In 2016, Middendorf sold Firehall 4 Animal Hospital, where she still works part time as a veterinarian. She now spends more time with family, gardening, quilting, and hiking in the mountains.

Middendorf credits her father, a two-time board member of the Nature Conservancy, for her appreciation of the natural world. She fondly recalls visiting family forestry land with him, where she learned in person the positive impacts timber stand improvements can have on forests.

Middendorf is well-equipped to serve on a board that works to protect a variety of landscapes, from forests to farms.

Welcome to ORLT, Karen!

Photo by Jason Thrasher

by Carla on May 30th, 2018

Remembering Both The Forests and The Trees

By Steffney Thompson, Executive Director

I wish I could say that I had been planning ORLT's 25th anniversary celebration for a long while, doing lots of deep thinking about the organization's journey and work.

Instead, it was only when reading Lee Shearer’s January 23, 2018, article (see page 4) about the conservation easement that ORLT Chair Smith Wilson and his wife, Dianne Penny, established for their Athens farm that I realized:

ORLT has been in existence for 25 years! We need to stop our work long enough to celebrate! (Watch for an invite later this year!)

Founded to help the local greenway effort, ORLT has grown from an all-volunteer organization to five busy, full-time staff members. We’ve expanded our conservation reach from Athens outwards and have protected more than 32,000 acres in 32 counties.

We don’t just protect land along the Oconee Rivers, either. Our conservation easements conserve many types of undeveloped land from forests to farms in watersheds across the state, including the Alcovy, Apalachee, Broad, Chattahoochee, Flint, Ocmulgee, and Ogeechee.

I am lucky enough to visit almost every single property we work to conserve, and every time, even on the hottest, most humid day when I am not entirely thrilled to be out tromping in the woods, I am reminded of the quiet beauty of the undisturbed beech forest, the busy life of the beaver swamp, the lift to the heart generated by an open meadow, and the amazing tenacity of the life that survives on bare granite.

It is a privilege to walk these beautiful properties and to work with their conservation-minded landowners.

In 2017, ORLT permanently protected over 6,000 additional acres on 28 properties. I am looking forward to walking in more forests, testing my growing knowledge of trees, and being reminded again why we do this work: Beautiful land, cleaner streams, fresh air, and the landowners who steward that land

by Carla on May 30th, 2018

By Denise Horton and Carla Francis

Grammy Award-winning banjoist Alison Brown and her band returned to Athens on March 22 for the 2nd Oconee Belles concert. All $25,000 raised at the event directly funds ORLT's mission, thanks to underwriters, the Riverview Foundation.

While the concert lasted only a few hours, the money raised supports land conservation year-round,” said Carla Francis, ORLT outreach and development coordinator, noting that the concert also serves as a celebration and gathering place for the region’s arts and environmental communities.

Just prior to the concert, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails were served in The Foundry’s courtyard, as a “thank you” to the event’s sponsors. Alison Brown made an appearance, where she greeted sponsors and took photos with many of the reception’s attendees. Jason Thrasher, artist and author of Athens Potluck, photographed the event.

Local band Cicada Rhythm opened the concert, captivating the audience with homegrown talent, before the Alison Brown Quartet and guests took the stage.

Brown is known for leading an ensemble that marries an array of roots-influenced music, including folk, jazz, Celtic and Latin, and is acclaimed as one of today’s finest progressive banjo players. Brown’s musical guests included newlywed duo Sierra Hull and Justin Moses and Grammy-nominated duo Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley.

“The Oconee River Belles Benefit Concert provides an unparalleled combination of roots music and grassroots fundraising for the rivers, forests and farms that inspire it,” Brown said of her decision to headline the event for a second year. “It’s also a one-of-a-kind opportunity for
listeners that brings together performers who care about the land and want to protect it.”

The land trust extends its heartfelt appreciation to concertgoers, sponsors, members, volunteers, and others who are working with ORLT to protect greenspace for people and wildlife.

Stay tuned for information about the third annual concert, coming in Spring 2019.

Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Riverview Foundation

Greencone Investments

SRS - Southern Resource Strategies

Carson Advisory, Inc.
Todd Emily
Dan and Ann Hope

– BOG –
Southern Land Exchange
First Madison Bank and Trust
Peachstate Well
Walt Cook
Sally and Dan Coenen
Dick and Susan Field
Rob and Barbara Fisher
Kathy and Al Parker
Jim Goolsby
Madeline and Phil Van Dyck

Larry Dendy
Pierre Howard
Ken and Joan Jarrett
Joiner and Associates Realtors
Nat and Helen Kuykendall
Clint McNeal
Roger and Pat Nielsen
Karen and Jim Porter
Tredway Shurling
Smith Wilson and Dianne Penny
A special thank you: Riverview Foundation, UGA’s Music Business Program (MBUS), Hannah McIntosh (MBUS intern), Tommy Jordan, Troy Aubrey of Foundry Entertainment, Mrs. James Hall, and Stephen Humphreys of Athens Imports.

by Carla on May 30th, 2018

Globally Rare Habitat is One of Just a Few in Georgia

By Laura Hall, Land Steward

Conservationists and landowners Russell Bennett and Carlton Walstad have established conservation easements preserving some important habitats for Georgia.

A total of 1,200 acres is located in Houston County, near Perry, and includes both chalk woodlands and rare Blackland Prairie.

Blackland Prairies, also known as Black Belt Prairies, are sometimes called “gumbo flats,” due to the sticky consistency of the limestone-rich clay when it’s wet. The prairie hosts hundreds of native grasses and showy wildflower species.

Created by a combination of seashells left behind when ancient seas ebbed and frequent fires, Blackland Prairies are found along a shoreline that once curved from middle Georgia through northern Alabama. Unfortunately, in many areas, these grasslands have been destroyed by agriculture and by efforts to suppress fires, which results in less fire-tolerant plants.

According to Tom Patrick, a botanist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Blackland Prairies are a globally rare habitat and are found in only a few locations in Georgia, including the Atlantic coastal plains and the red uplands of Houston County. Examples open to the public are found in the Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), owned by the state near Kathleen, Georgia. The wildflowers typically peak in July.

Patrick has identified several species of conservation concern on the property, including Southeastern Bold Goldenrod (Solidago rigida), which has previously only been found in northwest Georgia.

Patrick also has found Boykin’s milkwort (Polygala boykinii), and Dakota vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) on the properties. These plants, which are considered rare in Georgia, have been added to the Georgia Rare Natural Element database.

The landowners are planning to continue prescribed fire as part of the future management of the prairies.

While protecting Blackland Prairie is important, the “associated mesic chalk slope” forests and bottomlands found near these areas are also of “significant conservation concern,” according to Kristina Sorensen, a biologist who completed the documentation of the natural resources on the properties.

“These woodlands have a slightly different composition than typical mesic and bottomland hardwood forest due to the alkaline nature of the soils,” Sorensen says. “Typical overstory species include chinkapin oak, Shumard oak, white ash and redbud with dwarf palmetto in the understory. And in the bottomland green ash, Florida maple, sugarbery, laurel oak and swamp chestnut oak. There is often no midstory and the understory is dominated by dwarf palmetto, river cane, numerous ferns, vines and large expanses of Cherokee sedge (Carex cherokeensis).”

In addition to the Blackland Prairie easements, Bennett and Walstad have also preserved 100 acres of greenspace that is contiguous to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County.

This property contains mesic and bottomland hardwood forests along Rocky Creek, which flows into the park and adjoins another 900 acres that the landowners preserved in 2016.

Photos by John Gwaltney. The purple flower is Dakota vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) and the white flower is Boykin's milkwort (Polygala boykinii).

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