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Group is raising seed money to save woodland
Margaret Rasmussen, shown in a photo from June, talks about a wooded tract of land above Clarks Bridge Park that a coalition of local gardening clubs is hoping to make into a public park. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

How to help

Donations may be sent to: The Redbud Project, P.O. Box 907614, Gainesville, GA 30501. Checks should be made payable to the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia (specify that it is for the Redbud Project).

For more information: Contact Margaret Rasmussen: 678-989-1813; e-mail,

Not far upstream on Lake Lanier from the former Olympic rowing venue at Clarks Bridge Park, there is an eight-acre tract of wooded land that many experts consider a biological treasure trove.

It had been scheduled to become a subdivision, but now the developer, Bill Hanke, has indicated that he is willing to sell the land for use as a nature preserve.

Hall County officials have said they would love to turn the property into a park, but they don’t have the money to buy it.

So a group of gardeners, environmentalists and others have created the Redbud Project, with the goal of raising enough money to purchase the land, then turning it over to the county.

"We would like to do this as quickly as possible," said Carole Roslak, secretary of the coalition. "We hope to get it at a reasonable price before it’s sold to someone else."

Margaret Rasmussen, development coordinator for the Redbud Project, wouldn’t put an exact dollar figure on their goal.

"But we need a considerable amount of seed money in order to secure the property," she said. "We hope to have enough to show good faith to organizations that might provide a bridge loan."

Getting loans or grants from the state is not an option. Georgia’s budget problems have basically eliminated its greenspace program.

The Redbud Project has formed an advisory board and members are researching possible sources of funding. They’re taking an approach similar to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, which raised record amounts of money by getting small donations from a large number of individuals.

"We’re not looking for a single big donor because we want to give lots of people the opportunity to contribute," said Rasmussen. "We want everyone to feel that they’re part of this effort."

She said the Redbud Project has not sought 501(c)3 nonprofit status because it is a temporary entity that will disband once its goal is achieved. Instead, the group is partnering with an existing nonprofit, the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia, which will accept tax-deductible donations on behalf of the Redbud Project.

"This is a grassroots project. I think it kind of serves as a model for other places," said Roslak. "We’re hoping that ordinary citizens will step forward, people who believe in saving native species and contributing to the quality of life in Hall County."

Why are supporters so passionate about saving this relatively small piece of land? Because biological surveys have found more than 150 species of native plants on the property, giving it one of the highest rates of biodiversity among known tracts in the United States.

Perhaps even more important is what the tract doesn’t have. It seems to be devoid of invasive species such as kudzu and privet, which can rapidly crowd out native plants.

"It’s really a pristine piece of land," said Roslak. "If it’s sold for development, all of the native plants will be lost."

The genesis of the Redbud Project originated with a single plant species, the bunchflower, which is listed as threatened in Georgia.

"Our state botanist, Tom Patrick, said he’s never seen such an expanse of bunchflower," said Rasmussen. "It’s found throughout the tract. We (gardening clubs) got permission from the developer to rescue it (by transplanting some specimens). Then we started talking about saving the whole thing."

"The whole thing" is the intact ecosystem. Most of the plants can only thrive when they share space with other species that require the same habitat.

"This is an oak-hickory-pine forest that’s very typical of the upper Piedmont area, but it’s quickly diminishing in Hall County because of development," Rasmussen said.

She said plants found on the property represent about four different climatic zones, including northern species that were pushed south by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately, the site has some steep slopes, and the soil is of a type that is highly susceptible to erosion if the plant cover is removed.

Some preliminary construction had begun on the property before the work was halted last year, which has created a potential problem.

"I feel it’s urgent that we purchase the property very soon. We need to get in and stop the erosion," said Rasmussen.

The tract, accessible to the public via White Sulphur Road, could eventually become a passive-use park with walking trails. Rasmussen said volunteers will be careful to route the trails so that fragile native plants are not disturbed.

She said the Redbud Project has received "enthusiastic support" from people who are concerned about the pace of development in Hall and other metro Atlanta counties.

"There’s a lot of excitement about it," she said.

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