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HemlockFest organizer receives national award
Lisa Simpson, conservation chairwoman of the Atlanta chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution presented the Conservation Medal for distinguished conservation efforts to Forest Hilyer of Dahlonega. - photo by Larry Winslett


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Forest Hilyer of Dahlonega is the recipient of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Conservation Medal for his distinguished conservation efforts.

The national award was presented during a Nov. 2 ceremony at HemlockFest in Dahlonega.

Sponsored by the Atlanta chapter of the DAR, Hilyer’s award is one of only a few bestowed nationally each year. The DAR is a worldwide service organization with nearly 3,000 chapters devoted to promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. Lisa Simpson, conservation chairwoman of the Atlanta chapter, was on hand to present the prestigious award.

“Forest Hilyer is a quiet but energetic warrior for the preservation and maintenance of our mountain forest,” Simpson said. “He has his hands on so many projects it’s hard to count them. His strength of character, his tireless efforts and his dedication to preserve forests, specifically the hemlock trees, certainly make him deserving of the DAR Conservation Medal.”

Hilyer’s conservation efforts span the past decade and have focused on preserving forests and watersheds in North Georgia. He cofounded Lumpkin Coalition in 2003 and continues to chair the all-volunteer organization. Through Lumpkin Coalition, Hilyer spearheads HemlockFest, a benefit music festival that raises awareness and funds to minimize the impact of the non-native hemlock woolly adelgid parasite, which is devastating the hemlock trees of North Georgia at an alarming rate.

In its ninth year, HemlockFest has raised more than $100,000 to support predator beetle rearing labs at area colleges and universities. This effort to introduce predator beetles, which feed on hemlock woolly adelgids and are a safe and effective biological control, are helping to save native forests and preserve quality-of-life.

Hilyer’s proactive approach to protecting hemlock trees included bringing together members of the scientific community from Georgia and surrounding states to collaborate early on. His efforts were cited in the award as contributing to North Georgia’s enhanced ability to preserve hemlock stands on public and private lands compared with other affected states. Predatory beetle rearing labs have been established at the University of Georgia, University of North Georgia and Young Harris College.

In addition, Hilyer is a naturalist and educator who works to teach others, especially youth, an appreciation of the natural world. He contributes heavily to volunteer efforts to conserve greenspace for future generations, maintain mountain trails and conduct annual clean-ups of the Chestatee and Etowah Rivers in Lumpkin County. He also works as a river guide and educator with Appalachian Outfitters and is developing his own mushroom cultivating business, raising medicinal and edible mushrooms for commercial use.