Margaret Rasmussen did little to contain her excitement as she noticed a white milkweed in bloom.
The small flower was one of many varieties recently planted in one of six native plant “study gardens” at the Linwood Nature Preserve in Gainesville. The preserve is a 30-acre forest being developed as a model of conservation for Gainesville Parks and Recreation.
Rasmussen, executive director of the Redbud Project, has been working alongside hundreds of volunteers to conserve native plants at the preserve and in Hall County for the last few years. The Redbud Project is the local volunteer-led nonprofit group spearheading the study gardens in Linwood Nature Preserve. The purpose of the endeavor is to encourage residents, business owners, politicians and developers to practice sustainable conservation methods for the sake of the county’s biodiversity and future economy.
“Developers, their interests are usually just buying property to sell,” site development coordinator Ken Slater said. “They want to make sure they can maximize the use of that property. But we’re saying, ‘In the long run, that’s detrimental to the biodiversity in the area. You need to be smart about how you develop.”
Rasmussen said tree canopies add as much as 25 percent to land value while reducing urban noise, improving air quality and reducing heating and cooling energy costs.
The area’s rich biodiversity is also an aesthetic treasure trove. Plants such as the black gum tree, native azalea, jack-in-the-pulpit, Georgia aster and the cranefly orchid are unique and well-suited to the area.
“This Hall County region is right on the Gainesville ridge,” Rasmussen said. “The glaciers 2 million years ago and tectonic plate upheaval brought the seeds from plants from four zones north of here into the seed banks. That’s why the native plant species and the biodiversity in this area is really, really rich. The seeds came from Appalachia, Blue Ridge and valley and the upper Piedmont (regions). Plants from that northern zone shouldn’t be growing here, but they are.”
To protect native plants, the project aims to increase awareness, provide eduction and rescue plants in areas slated for development.
Rasmussen said the public can do a lot to preserve the area’s biodiversity by using native species in residential locations as well as getting developers to preserve areas where plants are growing. She encourages people to rescue native plants by transplanting in residential and commercial spaces.
Rasmussen said just getting out into nature and becoming familiar with the native landscape can help encourage sustainable development by exposing people to the county’s unique beauty.
While the preserve may be located behind a temporarily locked gate off Springview Drive in Gainesville, visitors are encouraged to step around the fence post and take advantage of the preserve.
The preserve is a “work in progress” but 2 miles of easy nature trails already wind through the forest. A number of wooden bridges and boardwalks make the trails more accessible. Viewing decks provide visitors with a quite place to view the preserve and wildlife. The green space has also been certified as an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
Three rain gardens of various sizes act as water filters and provide visitors with suggestions on how to landscape to prevent polluting Lake Lanier or other water systems.
Project volunteers are also in the process of establishing a “Re-creation” area for visitors as well as a parking lot.
Rasmussen said the hope is to have the preserve ready to officially open by December.
“But we’ve got to get finished before we wear ourselves out,” Rasmussen said.
“That’s for sure,” Slater added, laughing.