(Photo courtesy of Alan Cressler)
Editor's Note: The Preserve at Rising Fawn was big news in Dade County from 2009-2013 as it became gradually evident that the luxury development was a massive land fraud. Why would rich Yankees want to build getaways in our little neck of the woods? asked locals. Answer: They didn't. The idea was to get the banks to part with massive building loans. The scheme resulted in an FBI investigation, a federal trial and jail terms for two of the parties. But the land, beautiful Johnson's Crook in the loveliest part of Rising Fawn, went nowhere, and now it seems that the SCCI will be watching over it.
The Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. recently received a donation of more than 2,300 acres in Northwest Georgia from an anonymous donor, as well as additional acreage from the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust Inc. Together, the donated property constitutes most of the failed development called the Preserve at Rising Fawn, located at Johnson's Crook in Dade County.
The property includes more than 30 known caves, stands of hardwood trees in a stunning landscape, and a diverse ecological environment supporting wildlife of many kinds. This donated land will be named the Charles B. Henson Preserve at Johnson's Crook, honoring the memory of Chuck Henson, a long-time caver and benefactor to the Conservancy. Henson, recognizing the risks of development to the fragile systems of Johnson's Crook and the opportunity for conservation, began the efforts to protect the land and make the preserve a reality.
For over six years, Georgia-Alabama Land Trust worked to protect many parcels in the failed development as they became available, through the acquisition of land and through conservation easements. It now holds a permanent conservation easement on all of the land in the Henson Preserve.
The Land Trust’s Johnson's Crook Project was accomplished through private and corporate donations, and support from foundations such as the Open Space Institute's Northwest Georgia Land Protection Fund. Open Space Institute’s Northwest Georgia Land Protection Fund is made possible with funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Benwood Foundation. The Northwest Georgia Land Protection Fund seeks to build capacity of land trusts working to protect ecologically significant landscapes in northwest Georgia.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that this project all came together,” said Katherine Eddins, executive director of the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. “The importance of preserving Johnson’s Crook first came to my attention 15 years ago, and it has been gratifying to see land once slated for development preserved in its natural state.”
The partnership with the Land Trust has made it possible for this natural resource to be protected and enjoyed by cavers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. We at the Conservancy also want the Henson Preserve to be an asset to Dade County and the North Georgia community.
The Conservancy will work with community partners to develop a master plan for the Henson Preserve. Conserving this amount of land comes with a lot of responsibility and expense. Stewardship, trails, and basic recreation structures can be costly. We will need the input and support of many partners to make the Henson Preserve a North Georgia destination.
About Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi): SCCi is the world’s largest land conservancy solely dedicated to saving caves. SCCi protects more than 170 caves on 4,500 acres in six southeastern states. Founded in 1991, SCCi is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. To learn more about SCCi and wild cave conservation, visit www.SaveYourCaves.org.
About Georgia-Alabama Land Trust: The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, Inc. is a nonprofit conservation organization that actively works to protect and steward land. We are the largest land trust that services the Southeastern region of the United States. For more information on protecting land in Alabama and Georgia, visit www.GeorgiaAlabamaLandTrust.org.
Ray Knott is the executive director of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc.