Bainbridge, Ga-It’s the story of a small rural county that recognized the opportunity to invest in the protection of natural resources within its borders and leave a lasting conservation legacy for its citizens. And, in today’s challenging economic times, the acquisition of Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Decatur County sounds more like a fairy tale than reality.
ACCG Deputy Director Ross King, at left, staff members and financial contributors attended today’s Decatur County Commission meeting to celebrate the completion of Silver Lake WMA and to recognize Decatur County and the land conservation partners who came together to acquire Silver Lake.
In just over 18 months since Governor Sonny Perdue announced the State of Georgia’s intent to purchase this property, a remarkable number of local, state and federal funding partners came together to acquire the 8,397-acre tract at a total cost of $38,502,455.
“The commitment of the Decatur County Commission to seek a $3 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to contribute towards this acquisition really opened the eyes of other organizations and was critical to soliciting other financial support for this project,” said ACCG Deputy Director Ross King.
Immediately following the meeting, a reception was held to celebrate the completion of the Silver Lake Project. Several of those involved in the funding of the project were on hand as well as officals from local and state government.
Left to right are Buford Sanders, Ga. Forestry Commission; Wallace Scholar, representing Congressman Sanford Bishop; Danny Sparks, National Wild Turkey Federation; Bruce Kirbo, Sr and his wife Cass representing the Kirbo Foundation; behind them is ACCG Deputy Director Ross King; Palmer Rich, Decatur County Commission Chairman and Andrew Schock, the Conservation Fund.
Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area was identified by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as one of the top priorities for acquisition in the State’s Wildlife Action Plan because of the extensive stands of mature longleaf pine forest which supports many threatened and endangered species including red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise.
Recognizing the importance of this property, The Conservation Fund purchased Silver Lake from International Paper (IP), which had managed it as a private forestry research site for more than 50 years.
The Conservation Fund worked with the State of Georgia to purchase the site in three phases as funding was secured. “This project wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the terrific support at the local, state and federal level and the cooperation of International Paper,” said Rex Boner, vice president and southeast representative for The Conservation Fund. “Collaboration like this serves as a model for advancing the conservation of natural resources in Georgia.”
In addition to the funding from Decatur County, additional financing for Silver Lake WMA came from the Georgia Land Conservation Program, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and the Kirbo Foundation. Several federal grants also aided in the acquisition including a Forest Legacy Program Grant, a Habitat Conservation Program Grant, a Wildlife Restoration Program Grant and several others.
Conservation organizations that provided funding included the Georgia Ornithological Program, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited. Wildlife enthusiasts throughout the state also played a role in this acquisition, as funds were provided from proceeds raised by through the purchase of wildlife vehicle license plates (Wildlife Conservation Fund) and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses (Wildlife Endowment Fund), which are both managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
“Working with these partners gave us an opportunity to protect our county’s natural heritage, in a way that we may have never considered,” said Decatur County Commission Chairman Palmer Rich. “We know that Silver Lake will be enjoyed by our citizens for decades to come, and that it is an investment in our future.”
ACCG recognizes that land conservation positively influences water quality, property values, economic development and public health. Through ACCG’s Land Conservation Initiative, the Association is working with a network of partners to assist counties in maximizing project quality and accessing technical assistance and financial resources, while also developing an overall vision for land protection in Georgia. The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently recognized ACCG’s Land Initiative with a 2009 Achievement Award as an innovative county government program."
Silver Lake WMA is operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and is open to the public for fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation. Please consult the hunting and fishing regulations at www.georgiawildlife.org for more information.
For more information on ACCG’s Land Initiative, contact Land Initiative Director Beth Bradley at (404) 522-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.