Beginning in 1991 with a simple mission of protecting one of the highest ridges in Pickens County from logging, members of the Oglethorpe Mountain Land Trust began what is now two decades and counting of preserving green areas in North Georgia.
The Jasper-based land trust, now known as the Mountain Conservation of Georgia, will mark their 20th year with a series of special event during 2011.
According to trust history, a group of ten people gathered in the home of John and Miriam Kiser on Burnt Mountain and were successful at seeing Georgia Pacific let the timber contracts expire on the high slopes of Burnt Mountain.
Lynnell Reese, one of the original founders recalled in an article for the trust’s upcoming newsletter, “My dominant memory of our beginnings is that we had fun and drew from each others strengths, and I might add, strong personalities. The humor and mutual respect kept us cooking.”
In 1998, the trust changed their name to the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia (MCTGA). The intervening years also saw new director Dr. Barbara Decker come on board. Under Decker’s tenure the trust completed their protection of the Burnt Mountain Preserve, a 756 acre tract on the slopes of the mountain that frames the skyline east of Jasper.
Decker was followed by Dr. Robert Keller as the executive director and the trust began to greatly expand their educational offerings and activities, while also increasing the acres of protected land. As of today, more than 2,000 acres have been protected by the trust, including a recent 540 acre tract of Etowah River property in the Yellow Creek area of Cherokee County.
Last year the trust hired Liz Cole to replace Keller as the director. Cole has begun by placing greater emphasis on collaborations with local groups. The trust is working with the Rotary Club of Jasper to create a new playground at Roper Park and expand walking trails.
They are working with the Mountain Stewards to provide more hiking opportunities in the Burnt Mountain Preserve.
The trust is working with the county to create a greenprint for future conservation and recreation areas.
In a letter celebrating the two-decade mark, land trust president Roger Schultz said they are working on or investigating conservation projects in 24 North Georgia counties. “MCTGA is gradually expanding our footprint across North Georgia to address the interests and concerns of the communities we serve,” Schultz writes.
Current director Cole described the trust’s growth as starting “very much about conservation with a local presence” and then expanding to other areas and projects.
She said it was under past director Keller’s tenure that MCTGA became an accredited land trust, which is a significant accomplishment in establishing the local land trust as a reputable and stable organization.
Cole said during her first months on board, the trust has elected to follow a national trend and work on community projects. “Nationally, trusts are emphasizing community projects to increase support. They [land trusts] are taking more community input into what is important for conservation and recreation and the things that make each community unique.”
Cole said the local trust’s 20-year track record is quite an accomplishment with few others in Georgia matching that history. “It shows the commitment of the board as well as the membership,” she said.
The first special event planned for the anniversary year is an evening at the Funk Heritage Center on February 11. For more information, see the trust’s website at www.mctga.org.