Even with all the development going on, Gainesville has places where nature can be enjoyed in its original setting. One of those is the Linwood Nature Preserve, a partnership between Gainesville Parks & Recreation and the Redbud Project. Located on Linwood Drive off Thompson Bridge Road, this 30-acre urban forest offers views of old-growth forest and native plants that would have been familiar to the first settlers in Georgia. For residents used to subdivisions adorned with exotic trees and chemically engineered shrubs and flowers, it’s quite an education.
“We’ve been working on this for a number of years, with the help of students and local volunteers,” said Margaret Rasmussen, director of the Redbud Project. “We now have a bird sanctuary, two rain gardens, an Ecology Center and a walking trail stretching across the property.” A recent tour for Brenau students confirmed the extraordinary condition of the preserve. Ancient oak trees, gone from most of Hall County, line the trail. They are interspersed with plants native to the Eastern U.S., but rarely seen in cities. The Paw-Paw tree is one of them. “You can even eat the fruit that it produces,” Rasmussen said. “This type of tree produces beautiful dark red flowers in the spring. When the fruit are ripe, their tropical taste is a treat. Some people make ice cream from them.” Because Paw-Paw leaves turn a golden brown in the fall, they are also favored for landscaping. “Many gardeners use them as ornamentals,” confirmed Elizabeth Dietz, a Hall Co. Master Gardener who accompanied the tour.
Evidence of past colonization also enhances the forest. Native Americans or early immigrants probably made the “mailbox tree”. Bending and immobilizing it to a horizontal angle, removing its bent top and later hollowing it out made a feature that has a striking resemblance to a U.S. mailbox, with a secondary branch growing upward to form the new main trunk. “They used it to leave messages inside, just like a postal service,” Rasmussen explained.
High-voltage power lines crossing the area could have been a disturbance, but the Georgia Power corporation has been managing the clearing that’s required along the poles’ pathway. “Instead of just cutting everything to the ground, they shaped and maintain it as a native prairie land,” Rasmussen said. An abundant population of birds confirms that the Linwood Preserve is a true local treasure.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.