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Jacob's Mountain Gets Forever Wild Approval

July 19, 2012
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
 
Despite the uncertainty of the future of the Forever Wild Land Trust, board members continued their effort to purchase land in Alabama that provides recreational opportunities in our great outdoors for the state’s citizens and maintains the vast biodiversity of Alabama’s flora and fauna.
 
Forever Wild is in its last year of authorization, which was granted in 1992 for a 20-year term. Alabama voters will have the opportunity on the November ballot to authorize another 20 years for the program, which has purchased more than 227,000 acres for public use since its inception.
 
At the recent board meeting at the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge, the Forever Wild Board approved the next step in the purchase of the 11,000-acre Jacob’s Mountain tract in Jackson County with the help of The Nature Conservancy, which has worked in the past to secure eco-sensitive property until Forever Wild can complete the purchase process. Currently, The Nature Conservancy is negotiating to buy the Jacob’s Mountain tract, which is adjacent to the Skyline Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Part of the proposed deal is a $1-million private donation that would allow access to Wildlife Restoration funds that will be provided in partnership with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, which will be purchasing almost half the tract with these contributing funds.
 
Jackson County officials said similar projects, like the Walls of Jericho, Skyline WMA and other Forever Wild properties, are paying significant tourism dividends. Rick Roden of the Greater Jackson County Chamber of Commerce said the county enjoyed a 43-percent increase in tourism in 2011 for a variety of outdoors activities, including hunting and fishing, caving, horseback riding and hiking.
 
“The Walls of Jericho is a huge asset for us,” Roden said. “Tens of thousands of people are coming from all over the United States to the Walls of Jericho. People are calling it the 'Grand Canyon of the Southeast.' Hunting and fishing are huge. Lake Guntersville has been in the top five bass fishing lakes in the nation for the past five years.
 
“Plus, of all the charted caves in Alabama, over half of them are in Jackson County. People come from all over to explore our caves, eat in our restaurants, and stay in our hotels. We certainly support the Jacob’s Mountain purchase. Forever Wild has been a great asset to our county.”
 
The board also took the next step on a purchase at Live Oak Landing in Baldwin County, which is also projected as an economic boon to south Alabama. The board approved a motion for a second appraisal for the purpose of purchasing a tract of land at Live Oak that will complete a 621-acre project site on the Tensaw River. The project would be in partnership with Baldwin County and the state, which have secured Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) funds for the bulk of the $13-million purchase. After a price concession from the property owners, the amount requested from Forever Wild to complete the project was reduced to $3 million.
 
Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey and State Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, made presentations to the board about the project’s economic impact on the area and state, as well as the improved access to the vast Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which includes several Forever Wild properties. The property, as a whole, includes a four-lane boat ramp, fishing lake, boat docks and a building suitable for a bait shop or convenience store. The proposed Forever Wild purchase is adjacent to the boat ramp.
 
Dorsey said the addition of the property at Live Oak, which is less than a mile off I-65, will enhance the 367 acres the county has purchased for its Bicentennial Park, which focuses on the area's cultural history.
 
“There will be a lot of traffic in the Live Oak area with the investments Baldwin County has made in the area,” Dorsey said. “We feel this property is a key component to keep the property preserved.
We think this is a good fit for Forever Wild. The local community is very excited about this access point to the Delta this creates.
 
“The economic impact study indicates this could generate between $9 and $12 million annually to the state of Alabama.”
 
Rep. Davis, chair of the House’s Hunting and Fishing Subcommittee and co-sponsor of the bill to reauthorize Forever Wild, said the Live Oak package is needed to re-establish south Alabama as a desired location to hold large fishing tournaments.
 
“Over the last few years, we've lost our competitive edge in attracting national bass tournaments, and that's because of access,” Davis said. “What Forever Wild is about is access, access to lands to be able to hunt, fish, bike, hike trails and bird-watch and things of that nature.
 
“We see this as a unique opportunity for this piece of property. This is a high-bluff property, a change from the estuarine to the high ground in the Delta with purely freshwater fishing and hunting activities. We're pleased with the collaborative effort among all the parties: county, state, federal and the landowners.”
 
After the Forever Wild Board approved the next step in the Live Oak process, Davis was gratified by the board’s response.
 
“We look forward to moving to the next appraisal and proceeding with the final documentation with this project,” Davis said. “We’re looking at a major acquisition for Forever Wild, the state and Baldwin County to come together in a way that will have a significant economic impact.
 
“This is a huge improvement in the accessibility. It’s a beautiful park, beautiful area, so this is really significant.”
 
An addition to Frank Jackson State Park in Covington County also received a favorable vote from the Forever Wild Board. The 28-acre addition was promoted by the Frank Jackson Trail Masters, a group of volunteers that maintains and enhances the trails in the park. The Trail Masters also hold the very popular “Scarecrow in the Park” at Frank Jackson each fall.
 
Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/public-lands/statelands/foreverwild/ or http://www.alabamaforeverwild.com/ for more information about Forever Wild.
 
PHOTO: (By David Rainer) The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve near Pinson is only one of numerous pristine landscapes that have been preserved for public use through the Forever Wild Land Trust. More than 227,000 acres have been purchased since Forever Wild’s inception in 1992 for public activities like hiking, biking, hunting, fishing and bird-watching.
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