County, Mountain Conservation Trust partner to protect Narrow Gate tract
The area in red is the recent 282-acre addition to the Burnt Mountain Preserve.
A partnership between the Pickens County Government and the Mountain Conservation Trust has led to the recent acquisition and conservation of over 282 acres that adjoin the Burnt Mountain Preserve, a passive recreation area permanently protected from development and part of the scenic view from the lower overlook on Highway 136.
The acquisition brings total acreage of the Burnt Mountain Preserve to over 1,100. Just like other land in the preserve, the new addition - known as the “Narrow Gate property” - is protected from future development by a conservation easement purchased by the Mountain Conservation Trust.
George Kimberly, Mountain Conservation Trust’s executive director, said the acquisition is a major success and will protect a key water resource, open additional lands for low-impact recreational and educational uses, preserve the “viewshed” of the Burnt Mountain area for future generations, and expand important corridors for wildlife.
“As conservation projects go, this one is a real win/win,” Kimberly said. “The land has important water resources that flow into Long Swamp Creek and then into the Etowah River. By precluding future development and timber harvests on the land, water quality in the region will be enhanced. The preserve is a large area of undisturbed wildlife habitat and now additional land will be available for public recreation.”
Kimberly stressed the importance of the partnership between the county and MCT, the most recent collaboration between the pair as it relates to the Burnt Mountain Preserve.
“We like the project because it’s a way for the county to own the property,” Kimberly said. “They own contiguous properties in the preserve and we hold conservation easements on them, so it’s a real partnership. In this situation, the property owners donated a significant amount of the value of the land to the county in exchange for a payment of $150,000, and the Mountain Conservation Trust facilitated the purchase by purchasing a conservation easement from the county for $150,000.”
The partnership between the two entities stretches back to 1998 when they worked together to secure funding and acquire what would become the first Burnt Mountain Preserve property. By 2001, nearly 772 acres had been purchased. In 2009, the county and MCT secured an additional 70 acres.
Pickens County Commission Chair Rob Jones applauded actions of former Pickens leaders who “had the foresight” to make conservation of the land a top priority. He said the county’s dedication to preservation continues on to present day and that he is “tickled to death” to be involved in the expansion of the preserve.
“This county has always been concerned with protecting its mountains and seeing the land conserved,” Jones said. “Back in [former commissioner] Frank Martin days, he enacted ordinances that protected the mountain scenery by making sure people can’t develop over a certain size on our mountain tops to keep those views in tact. If you look in other counties around us, they didn’t have these and now their mountains are shaved off. The land has been slated for residential development for some time. By protecting the water sources on the property, the quality of one of Jasper and Pickens County’s primary water supplies will be greatly enhanced. Burnt Mountain Preserve is also a tremendous recreational amenity for the region. Through Mountain Conservation Trust’s efforts, the preserve has been expanded at no cost to the taxpayers of Pickens County.”
Narrow Gate of Georgia, LLC has owned the 282-acre piece of property since 2005 and, as Jones stated, original plans called for a major residential development there. This project eventually floundered due to the economic downturn and other factors, including issues with zoning and access, as well as strong resistance from property owners in the area.
Because of the “highly sensitive” nature of the land it has been on MCT’s radar for many years, but in the past the non-profit has not been able to find a viable solution to conserve it. Things changed in June of this year when the property owners began contacting non-profits that might be interested in the land.
“We were contacted by representatives of the landowner to see if there was a way for this to work,” Kimberly said, “but they were talking with other nonprofits, too. We feared that if the land was acquired by another entity then eventually it might be developed. This is a very sensitive piece of land and fortunately this time we found a solution.”
Wade Beavers of Capital Law & Advisory Partners, a spokesman for Narrow Gate of Georgia, LLC, said after owning the property for a decade his client ultimately decided to donate such a large portion of the land’s value as a way to conserve a “unique natural resource.”
“The donor, Narrow Gate of Georgia, LLC, recognized that commercial development was again picking up speed in north Georgia and they wanted to move quickly to protect what everyone recognizes as an ecologically and aesthetically unique natural resource,” Beavers said. “Pickens County was a perfect and willing partner in that effort. We elected to work with Pickens County in part because of its relationship with George Kimberly and The Mountain Conservation Trust. They shared our vision and were willing to roll up their sleeves and find a way to make it happen. These transactions are never easy or simple, but everyone pulled together. My clients are grateful for all the hard work.”
Kimberly said terms of the deal were hammered out very quickly once Narrow Gate contacted them because they had funding available. MCT used a portion of the $500,000 in grant funds it received from the Coosa River Basin Initiative in 2007 to be used to protect lands in the Etowah Rover watershed, as well as a donation made by R. I. and Kate Payne (now deceased), long-time residents of Pickens County, who wanted the gift used to conserve lands in the county that would be open to the public.
“We are a small non-profit and not rife with money,” he said. “This project is a great example of how conservation organizations, our donors, landowners and local government can work together and achieve a great result. We can do so much more if we have internal acquisition funds available, as we did for this project, which will enable us to act quickly when opportunities arise.”
In addition to the Narrow Gate project, MCT has utilized approximately $450,000 of the $500,000 grant funds to protect approximately 1,943 acres in the region.
Commissioner Jones called on the state to make these important revenue streams possible for non-profits like MCT, whose impact he says extends much farther than Pickens County.
“This is really a benefit for the whole state because that water we protect in Burnt Mountain eventually flows down into Atlanta,” he said. “Also, the metro counties benefit from the cleaner air numbers in Pickens to offset their bad numbers in the Atlanta Regional Commission. The state should kick in some money for the Mountain Conservation Trust and environmental organizations because of their efforts and how what we do up here in the mountains impacts their water and air quality.”
With the acquisition under their belt, long-term plans for developing recreation amenities on the land are next on MCT’s radar.
“There is a long-term vision that has not been fully fleshed out,” Kimberly said. “This is going to be a tremendous recreation amenity for the county. That’s the next stage of the process.”
The property is adjacent to other property in the preserve that has hiking trails developed by the Mountain Stewards. In a continuation of their partnership, Kimberly said MCT and the county have initiated discussions with the group to expand trails and increase recreational opportunities for residents and tourists.
“We value our longstanding relationship with Pickens County in the establishment and protection of the Burnt Mountain Preserve,” he said. “The preserve encompasses one of the most iconic landscapes in the region that can be appreciated and enjoyed by generations to come.”
Learn more about the Mountain Conservation Trust at www.mctga.org.