Brown's Mount reopening to public in June

hduncan@macon.comMay 26, 2010 

After four years of being closed to the public, partly the result of a poorly planned logging operation and a tornado, Brown’s Mount is being opened June 5.

Jacob Tuttle, Bond Swamp manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said a trail has been cleared to provide public access from the parking lot off U.S. 23 (Ocmulgee East Boulevard) to the overlook, where Bond Swamp spreads out below rocky cliffs that are covered with lilies in the spring. The trail will be open from daylight to dusk.

“I’m happy people will finally be able to go up there,” said Brown’s Mount activist John Wilson. “It’s such an underutilized resource and could be good for tourism here. I’m just sorry it’s taken so long.”

Local residents campaigned for years to get the private land protected in the early 1990s, but in the years since it has changed hands and recently suffered damage.

Brown’s Mount is owned by the state but managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which recently hired a locally based manager for the first time in several years. Previously, the closest U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff were at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge east of Forsyth.

“I think it has taken WAY too long to open this back up,” wrote Stephen Hammack, a local Brown’s Mount supporter, in an e-mail. “In my opinion this important/amazing resource is run like absentee landlords run things — poorly.”

The crown of the mount, which the public will be asked to avoid, was logged several years ago to try to head off a pine beetle infestation. When Wilson and other residents realized what had happened, they pointed out that the clear-cutting might have damaged an archaeological site, including a small mound that dates to the same period as the nearby Ocmulgee National Monument.

State and federal officials were still trying to figure out how to assess the archaeological damage when more trees were leveled by a tornado on Mother’s Day 2008.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional archaeologist had proposed an extensive archaeological survey of the affected area, but the state had no luck working out an arrangement with the University of Georgia to provide the expertise, said state archaeologist David Crass.

Crass said he understands the service is revising its proposal to a more simplified plan.

In the meantime, the state has improved communication among divisions of the Department of Natural Resources to prevent such mistakes from happening again, Crass said.

Hammack, a professional archaeologist who is secretary of the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society, had offered the group’s services to help with the archaeological survey.

“I think this could have been opened sooner if they had used the greatest resource they have — the people who care about it,” he said. “It has been more about ‘damage control’ rather than doing something positive and engaging those with a stake in the future of Brown’s Mount. And that is a pity.”

Tuttle said the service will gradually open more trails at Brown’s Mount as staff are available to do the work. The areas where archaeological resources exist remain covered in fallen trees, he said.

Besides the progress at Brown’s Mount, Tuttle said the service is close to bidding two contracts for improvements to access at Bond Swamp. The Stone Creek and Longleaf Trail parking lots will be improved, turn lanes added from U.S. 23, and a canoe launch will be added (with vehicle drop-off access) at Stone Creek. He said he hopes the projects are completed by the end of this year.

To contact writer Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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