The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is in good hands — really good hands.
George Bain, its forest supervisor, was named the 2012 federal land manager of the year for the U.S. Forest Service.
Bain, who has been with the Forest Service for 35 years, was in Washington on Thursday to accept the award.
“This is unexpected and quite an honor,” Bain said prior to leaving for his trip. “It feels a little humbling quite frankly.”
The federal land manager of the year award is given each year through the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Take Pride in America program, a partnership to promote the nation’s public lands.
Bain was honored for his effort in engaging the community and bringing together trail users in a collaboration group. In early 2011, the Forest Service in North Georgia held meetings to talk to trail users and hear their needs. From there, the trail users helped create a plan to manage, maintain and improve forest trails.
Last January, Bain and others launched CoTrails, an initiative that brought together all trail users from hikers, cyclists, equestrians and others to work on maintaining existing trails in the forest.
“Basically we’re just providing the opportunity for those folks who care about the national forest and want to keep it up to get together,” Bain said. “(In the past) they haven’t had the opportunity to form, and no one thought to bring them together.
“The hiking community didn’t know the biking community; the biking community doesn’t know the horse community, etc.”
CoTrails now provides numerous resources such as trail evaluation forms and a list of groups that use trails in Georgia. The group also has created a volunteer program and helped provide information on trail use.
“Overall it’s been a very positive thing,” Bain said. “Once we got them all together and having regular meetings, they kind of learned more about each other and the things they have in common and how they could work together.
“There’s been new partnerships from this effort and I would like to think new friendships, too.”
Also under Bain’s watch, the Forest Service worked with volunteer organizations to help care for the forest system and resources. This year the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests became the first to work on an effort to save hemlock trees through a formal volunteer agreement with Save Georgia’s Hemlocks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to minimizing the impact of the hemlock woolly adelgid on Georgia’s Eastern and Carolina hemlock trees.
The Forest Service also improved its work with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The groups and agency are working on efforts to restore trail shelter.
Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service also have built more than 20 structures to improve stream habitats in the national forests.
Bain said being named federal land manager of the year feels good, but he can’t take all the credit.
“As I’ve told these folks, I’m getting this award for them,” he said. “It’s actually for all the people coming together and being successful.
“It’s not about me; it’s about all of them.”
Bain still has more he hopes to accomplish in his career, and he recently accepted a new position as the director of Recreation, Lands, Minerals, Heritage and Wilderness for the Forest Service in Missoula, Mont. He will stay on as forest supervisor until November.