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).

by Carla on May 30th, 2018

By Denise Horton and ORLT Staff

Jennifer Lytle began joining her attorney father at the office when she was just 4 years old and was drafting pleadings when she was 10.

Born in Athens when her father was attending law school at the University of Georgia, Lytle grew up in Marietta, with a creek that ran through her backyard and provided her first opportunities for experiencing the great outdoors. She also recalls the joy she found visiting Lake Rabun, a Georgia Power lake Known for its clear, clean water.

After earning her undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s in finance, Lytle began working in mergers and acquisitions for the Dutch-based Hagemeyer company. She later accepted a position with another company that led to her focusing on forensic accounting.

“I ended up serving as an interpreter between lawyers and accountants, so that’s when I decided to go to law school,” she says with a chuckle.

As a lawyer, Lytle discovered that legal research and numbers were her forte. She used those skills for several years as a litigator before shifting her focus to other areas of law, including land conservation.

Now Lytle and her family have become conservators of the land, having decided to protect 40 acres of family-owned land in Oglethorpe County themselves with a conservation easement in 2017. The property contains oak-hickory-pine forests as well as a mesic hard wood forest of beech and oak trees. A tributary of Millstone Creek crosses the property, bordered by large, resurrection fern and moss-covered granite boulders. The stream’s forested banks are home to a diversity of wildflowers, including black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens). The property is also located less than a mile from 4 other ORLT conservation easements, protecting another 376 acres.

Lytle and her husband, Mark, initially contemplated building a home on the land.

“Mark was an apprentice in the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture,” Lytle explains. “He found boulders that he was going to incorporate into a house.”

However, as time went by, the couple realized that although there was much to appreciate about living in the middle of a large tract of land where their nearest neighbor was a granite quarry, the rural location was a bit too remote for daily life, especially as their children became involved with various school and recreational activities. The Lytles also realized that placing the 40 acres into a conservation easement would permanently protect the beautiful property while still allowing them to establish an organic garden and continue outdoor recreation in an already existing open area.

“Mark has long had a passion for making sure we remember where our food comes from and since part of our property is already cleared and zoned agricultural, we’ve already been able to begin to create several garden beds with the help of an employee who is living there,” Lytle says.

Although the Lytles are avid hunters, Jennifer says hunting won’t be allowed on the family’s property for at least the next several years.

“Hunting is allowed all around that tract so I think it will be nice to provide a small reserve for deer and other animals,” she says. “I plan to put out feed plots that will encourage animals to visit our property. Over time, we might decide to occasionally kill a large deer that we will use as food for our family.”

The Lytles have recently moved into a former cotton mill in the small Northeast Georgia town of Comer that has been restored and renovated by Mark to ensure privacy and modern conveniences while still maintaining much of the traditional architecture. The mill also
houses their offices in an adjoining part of the building.

Lytle says she looks forward to talking further with ORLT land steward Laura Hall regarding management of the conservation easement and to working with other conservationists in finding and protecting land.

by Carla on May 14th, 2018

3 Hikes, 138 Species Spotted

It's been a busy spring for ORLT and for birds alike. Whether or not a hike is specifically intended to be a bird walk or not, there's usually someone in the group who's keeping track of what's seen and heard. The beauty of hiking with nature enthusiasts is that it's impossible to part ways without having learned something new, whether it's the mnemonic of the scarlett tanager (pick-up truck!), or the predatory nesting habits of brown-headed cowbirds (google it- you won't be disappointed).

Anyhow, the point of this blog post is to share with you the bird species that were identified this spring on land protected by ORLT. Thanks to the birders who kept track!

Beech Haven Preserve in Athens (51 species)

Walker Wetlands in Macon (62 species)

Lotsanotty Forest in Jackson County (25 species)

Whether you're counting birds, identifying trees, or simply enjoying the land, we hope to see you on an upcoming hike!