Photo of Amicalola Falls from a YouTube video (Image courtesy of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)

The Conservation Fund and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced on Nov. 21 the addition of 2,000 acres to the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area in north Georgia — more than tripling the state conservation lands around Amicalola Falls State Park.

The land acquisition was made possible because of many partners – the Conservation Fund, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program, Knobloch Family Foundation, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Walmart and other partners.

Photo of the land near Amicalola Falls State Park. (Courtesy of the Conservation Fund.)

The 2,000-acre property is adjacent to both the Amicalola Falls State Park and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Because of its crucial headwaters, forest habitats, wildlife connectivity and recreational potential, it was considered to be a high priority for conservation. In 2022, the Conservation Fund was able to secure the property, which was at risk of development. The land was transferred on Nov. 21 to Georgia DNR for permanent protection as part of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.

Amicalola Falls, which is located just over an hour north of Atlanta, is one of the state’s most popular parks. The park is home to Georgia’s tallest and most iconic waterfall, and it connects to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail – attracting thousands of visitors and hikers every year.

“Georgia DNR places a high priority on providing public access to our state’s natural resources,” said DNR Commissioner Walter Rabon. “This new addition to Dawson Forest WMA stands as a testament to successful conservation efforts, allowing our agency to offer citizens invaluable access to public land with significant conservation benefits, along with a range of recreational opportunities like hunting.”

Stacy Funderburke, Georgia state director of the Conservation Fund, said the wildlife property was at risk of being lost.

“Large conservation opportunities like this are rare in north Georgia, which faces rapidly increasing development pressure,” Funderburke said in a press release. “Connecting that conservation to a Georgia crown jewel like Amicalola Falls State Park is the most amazing part of the story. This property was slated to be subdivided and sold, which would have resulted in the loss of important forests, watershed protection in the upper Etowah River basin, as well as wildlife habitats and recreational opportunities.”

Map of the Amicalola Falls State Park in a YouTube video. (Image courtesy of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.)

The Conservation Fund is a leader in conserving at-risk lands and waters, with a significant focus on state-priority projects that provide critical public access. In Georgia, the Fund has protected nearly 190,000 total acres, including forest landscapes like this one in north Georgia, blackwater swamps in the Okefenokee Refuge in south Georgia, and important river corridors across the state like the Suwannee, Etowah, Flint and Altamaha.

In addition to these rural landscapes, the Fund is also protecting high-risk urban greenspaces in Atlanta, like the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve, and cultural heritage sites like the Chattahoochee Brick site in Atlanta.

Support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through Walmart’s Acres for America program was critical in this effort, as was support from the Knobloch Family Foundation, Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program, Georgia DNR, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson) and Cooperative Endangered Species Act-Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, and other partners.

“From the moment we first reviewed the Amicalola Falls project, we knew that this was an important project for us to support, and one that was an excellent fit for Walmart’s Acres for America program,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Georgians treasure this place, and in addition to its scenic beauty, the chance to conserve the headwaters streams in this area is exceptionally rare. Acres for America works to conserve lands and wildlife habitat of national significance and to benefit local communities and local economies, and Amicalola Falls truly achieves these goals.”

Click here to see a YouTube video from NFWF.

Amicalola Falls State Park
A photo of the land around Amicalola Falls State Park. (Images courtesy of the Conservation Fund.)

In addition to expanding the conservation lands, including the state park, from 800 to over 3,000 acres, this project also protects the headwaters of Good Neighbor Creek within the Etowah River Basin, a key watershed for Atlanta that eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. 

It will enhance watershed protection along Good Neighbor Creek, part of a stream mitigation project by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Corblu Ecology Group and Mountain Conservation Trust of North Georgia. The Etowah River watershed contains at-risk freshwater species not seen anywhere else in the world, like the federally listed, endangered Etowah darter.

The 2,000-acre addition to the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is part of the Conservation Fund’s larger effort to protect critical forest land in the area, including an additional 780 acres nearby that will be added to Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in 2024.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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