By Roberta Moore, The Conservation Fund
Jake’s Woods in Clinton, Georgia is a little-known treasure just an hour and a half southeast of Atlanta. Anyone who loves nature, biodiversity, and outdoor recreation, or recognizes the importance of historic preservation, should be excited about its recent protection.
The 28-acre Jake’s Woods property is a multifaceted hidden gem. The property gets its namesake from Jacob Hutchings, a stone mason who hand-quarried this wooded granite boulder field in the 1800s, both as a slave before the Civil War and as a free man and business owner after Emancipation. He acquired the quarry property during Reconstruction, went on to own and operate a successful masonry business, and became one of the first Black legislators in the Georgia General Assembly who fiercely advocated for equal voting rights. The granite blocks that Jacob quarried from these woods can be found all over Jones County, including in cemeteries, as street curbs and even as the steps of the former Clinton courthouse.
After his passing in 1909, Jacob’s family stewarded and passed down his property for generations. Over the past decade, The Old Clinton Historical Society, aware of the Hutchings family legacy, had been in conversation with the family about permanently protecting Jake’s Woods as a means of preserving and sharing Jacob’s story. Then a few years ago, the Hutchings family and the Historical Society reached out to The Conservation to work with Jones County and other partners to conserve the land in perpetuity for all to enjoy as a county park. Florence Walker, the great-great-granddaughter of Jacob Hutchings, said she was “so thrilled to see this property preserved as a public greenspace and as another addition to [her] family’s legacy.” She is also excited for the public to enjoy these woods as much as she has.
Not only does the property preserve Jacob’s unique history and legacy, but the enormous granite boulders that remain scattered across the property make it an ideal landscape for rock climbing and bouldering — a rare amenity in central Georgia. It offers a large, varied boulder field for climbers of all abilities to send rad new routes or try climbing for the first time. The recreation potential here will support a growing natural tourism economy for Jones County, Clinton and the nearby town of Gray. The effort also secures a much-desired public greenspace for local community residents. In addition to its unique topography, the Jake’s Woods property supports wildlife habitat and diverse plant species that thrive in rich woodland habitats, including Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum).
The Conservation Fund identified the property’s recreational potential and value as a multi-purpose greenspace when originally approached, and encouraged Jones County to secure and restore the site with the support of many partners and funding from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program. We collaborated closely with the Hutchings family to purchase their property in June 2022 and transferred the land to the county in February 2023.
The environmental, cultural and economic benefits of this conservation effort cannot be overstated. As a rock climber and a proponent of recognizing and sharing untold histories, I’m honored to have supported the Hutchings family and the county to make their goals for Jake’s Woods a reality. I envision the property becoming a day-trip destination for folks throughout the Southeast interested in hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. It will also attract tourists interested in Georgia history as it’s surrounded by historical places, spaces and artifacts preserved and documented throughout Clinton.
The park is not yet open to the public. The County is expected to complete the construction of trails and park amenities in 2024 and open the property by summer. In the meantime, we will continue working with a consortium of partners including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Middle Georgia Regional Commission, Access Fund, Southeastern Climbers Coalition, Atlanta Preservation Center, Old Clinton Historical Society, the Hutchings family, and volunteers from the local community to implement our shared vision for the greenspace.