Educational and recreational improvements at Ohoopee Dunes Wildlife Management Area will be celebrated in a ceremony Tuesday at the WMA, near Swainsboro.
The dedication, featuring local, state and federal officials and representatives from area businesses and schools, is set for 10:30 a.m. in the trailhead parking lot on Ohoopee Dunes’ McLeod Bridge Tract. The public is encouraged to attend. Short, interpretative tours will be provided following the ceremony.
The upgrades include a nearly two-mile trail with educational signage, a kiosk, a sandhill pond observation deck, parking areas, a small-craft boat ramp, and measures to restore and protect habitats. A $106,500 grant from the federal Recreational Trails Program kick-started the work. The Wal-Mart Foundation provided $50,000 in matching funds. Southeastern Technical College and other partners, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, pitched in to make the improvements happen, effectively expanding eco-tourism opportunities for Emanuel County and the region.
Ken Warnock, chief executive officer of Swainsboro and Emanuel County’s Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority, said the features highlight “a diamond in the rough.”
“We always get excited when we have the opportunity to spotlight one of our natural resources.”
Former chamber leader Bill Rogers Jr. said the work led by botanist Dr. Mincy Moffett Jr. of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section and Southeastern Technical instructors John Thrift and Rodney Kellum helped the community “become aware of what we had … one of Georgia’s most unique natural areas.”
The new improvements, he said, “will make the public more aware of the rarity of this place.”
Listed by noted nature columnist Charles Seabrook as one of Georgia’s natural wonders to see before you die, Ohoopee Dunes contains some of the state’s most significant natural communities, as well as many rare species. Three state-owned tracts on the upper Little Ohoopee River make up the WMA. The DNR Wildlife Resources Division also cooperates in managing an adjacent tract owned by The Nature Conservancy and a nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service parcel. The five tracts total nearly 3,000 acres.
The central topographic feature is a ridge of ancient sand dunes called riverine sandhills. Among the largest in the eastern U.S., these sandhills measure up to 120 feet in relief, or elevation, and a mile wide. Ohoopee Dunes’ natural communities vary from xeric (dry) dunes and longleaf pine forests to hardwood hammocks and river floodplains. The area has nine protected species, including striped newt and sandhill rosemary, and more than 10 of conservation concern, including Say’s spiketail, a species of dragonfly.
Moffett said the richness in wildlife results from the geology and many different, largely intact habitats in close proximity to each other.
“It’s an assemblage of rare ecological communities on top of a rare geologic system,” he said.
The DNR tracts were acquired through the state’s RiverCare 2000 and Preservation 2000 land conservation programs. All have been dedicated as state heritage preserves.
The Ohoopee Dunes and The Nature Conservancy and Fish and Wildlife Service tracts are being managed for rare species and other wildlife, specifically through the use of prescribed fire, a safe way to apply a natural process for fire-adapted habitats, ensure ecosystem health and reduce wildfire risk. Rare species of plants, especially members of the laurel family hit hard by laurel wilt disease, are being outplanted at the WMA. Efforts also continue to create a canoe trail section on the Little Ohoopee stretching from the WMA’s middle tract at Ga. 80 to the new boat ramp on the Hall’s Bridge Tract.
Project partners hope the newly finished features will draw more people to experience, and gain an appreciation for, the natural wonder that is Ohoopee Dunes.
To reach the trailhead parking area on Ohoopee Dunes’ McLeod Bridge Tract from downtown Swainsboro (intersection of U.S. 80 and U.S. 1 Business): Take U.S. 80 west for 3.5 miles to Old McLeod Bridge Road (you will cross the U.S. 1 Bypass at about mile 2). Turn right (north) onto Old McLeod Bridge Road and travel about 2.5 miles. The McLeod Bridge Tract parking area will be on the right.