A joint effort of volunteer groups and local government has renewed fishing and hunting opportunities on 600 acres of state-owned forest that had been inaccessible for six years.
Representatives from Dawson County, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the nonprofit National Wild Turkey Federation gathered last week to mark the Grant Road Project milestone.
“All these partners came together to turn this into a really great access project,” said Kevin Lowery, a wildlife biologist with DNR.
Up until recently, accessing the tract was impossible.
In 2005, a private property owner who had just bought the land, began digging trenches on the small road to keep visitors away. A section of his property adjoined the access point.
At the time, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which maintains the land, had no legal recourse to stop him.
Scott Frazier, a wildlife biologist with the DNR, said the agency had relied on an agreement from adjacent landowners in the past.
“The owners at the time had granted us permissive easement to use the road,” Frazier said. “In legalese, they simply said you can use it as long as we say you can use it.
“We found out we actually didn’t have any permanent rights to this access point.”
Located within the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area in western Dawson County, the 600-acre tract was bought from multiple landowners in the late 1980s as part of an effort to provide recreational opportunities to sportsmen.
Frazier said in 2009 “there were some rumblings that a new owner had purchased the [access point area] ... and was agreeable.”
He said the problem then was that the DNR “had a legal determination saying access was permissive. So we were back where we started.”
“The road had been fallow for five or six years, and we couldn’t justify coming in here and fixing something that [the property owners] could come back tomorrow and say: ‘The deal’s off.’”
That was where the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation stepped in.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has an access program called More Places to Hunt, which allows it to pool money from different levels of the organization.
The federation spent $17,000 to acquire easements for the property, so hunters and fishermen would have a permanent access point for the 600-acre tract.
Lynn Lewis-Weis, a wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation, said the organization was glad to help with the knowledge that “this spot is open for hunting, wildlife viewing, photography and just enjoyment.”