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Hall's green little jewel gets big honor
Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve now part of Old-Growth Forest Network
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Joan Maloof, center, founder and director of Old-Growth Forest Network, talks with RK Whitehead, left, and John Girardeau on Thursday after a ceremony dedicating Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve as part of the network. Whitehead is chairman of Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission, and Girardeau is chairman of the Hall County Vision 2030 Greenspace Committee. - photo by NAT GURLEY

A slice of Hall County is now environmentally protected for years to come.

The Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, overseen by the Elachee Nature Science Center, was placed in the Old-Growth Forest Network on Thursday during a small dedication ceremony.

“It has really become a great asset for our community and a great thing for the area,” said RK Whitehead, chairman of the Chicopee Woods Area Park commission. “As you’re driving up (Interstate) 985, and you see all of this green space on the left and the right, that green space will be there 50 years from now. It will be there 100 years from now.

“When 985 looks like (Interstate) 85 does all the way to Atlanta now, we will have this little jewel, this green jewel in Hall County that will be here preserved forever and ever.”

Joan Maloof, founder and director of the Old-Growth Forest Network, first heard of Chicopee through her sister who was helping Maloof with her goal of helping protect a green space in every county across the United States. Maloof visited the woods in October.

“I think everybody feels better just by being in the forest,” Maloof said about Chicopee. “It’s nice, native forest. A lot of diversity. It’s not original growth. It’s what I consider future old growth. So it has a beautiful start, it has wonderful protection and 100 years from now it’s even going to be better.”

It’s the first Old-Growth Forest in Georgia. The trees in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve are estimated to be around 150 to 200 years old, and include large oaks, hickories, tulip poplars and different types of pine.

According to Elachee Nature Science Center President Andrea Timpone, this designation is yet another layer of protection for the forested area.

“It’s very satisfying,” Timpone said. “We will use the recognition as another feather in our cap, if you will.”

The National Audubon Society has also recognized the area as an Important Bird Area, essential to nesting and migrating birds; along with its recognitions, Elachee prides itself in its accredited educational programs.

“We work toward excellence in everything we do,” Timpone added. “So any recognition like this is a help.”

Also recognized Thursday was Margaret Rasmussen, who received the Old-Growth Forest Network’s Forest Advocate Award, presented to those dedicated to preserving forests. Rasmussen was commended for speaking out for the protection of Hall County’s tree canopy, as well as for her role in creating the Linwood Nature Preserve in Gainesville.

Both Timpone and Maloof said providing green space and a place to commune with nature is important, not for this generation but for the ones to come.

“When we look at the past, we see what happened because people didn’t step forward and say, ‘Wait, stop. Don’t cut all of our forests,’” Maloof said. “So we’re learning from the mistakes of the past.”