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Conservation trust donates 80 acres for Newton County park, nature area
Donated park land
The Southern Conservation Trust (SCT) Thursday, Aug. 26, announced it donated more than 120 acres of land to Newton and Rockdale counties for a new park and nature area. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County has received a donation of 80 acres of undeveloped land adjoining the Rockdale line for future recreational uses.

Southern Conservation Trust announced its donation Thursday, Aug. 26, of more than 120 acres of land to Newton and Rockdale counties. 

The property donated to Newton County includes a total of 80.04 acres in two tracts on the north and south sides of Old Covington Highway at the Rockdale County line. 

Newton County has owned the land since December, according to county tax records. It includes a 68-acre tract on Old Covington Highway's south side that adjoins the Rockdale part of the donation, and a 12-acre tract on the north side of the road.

County Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Mask said plans for the land are in the early stages of development. Nothing has been decided about its usage, he said.

However, the Newton County Board of Commissioners recently voted to apply for a Georgia Department of Natural Resources grant totaling $200,000 for construction of trails — which could be used in the donated area, he said.

A news release from the Trust stated that former Board of Commissioners member Nancy Schulz "was essential in securing this donation from the Southern Conservation Trust for her district" that included the site, the release stated.

Schulz said the donation “is a perfect example of how the Southern Conservation Trust is working to conserve land and provide access to nature in Georgia and the Southeast." 

“(The Trust's) gift is a giant step towards the preservation of green space in Newton County and creates a legacy for future generations,” she said.

The land surrounds a perennial stream that flows into the Yellow River and will protect the water resources downstream, the release stated. 

It will be the future anchor for Newton County and Rockdale County trails and green space projects, it stated. 

Katie Pace Quattlebaum, executive director of the Southern Conservation Trust, said, "For 28 years, we have worked to protect land and provide public green space in Georgia. 

"This donation is another important step in bringing nature to our communities and we couldn’t be happier that the developer saw fit to protect this land through a permanent conservation easement,” she said. 

The group that bought the land planned to hold it until the market was ready and then sell or develop it, the release stated. 

"In this case, because they held it for so long, the owners of the land were able to make a gift and help the community from a recreational perspective," the release stated. 

The Southern Conservation Trust worked with the developer to place the full 120 acres under a perpetual conservation easement in December 2018. The easement placed was unlike most and restricted the use of the property to public recreation.

“After walking the property we realized it was ideal for public passive recreation,” said Nick Kilburg, director of Parks and Education for the Southern Conservation Trust.

The Rockdale County part is 40.33 acres and had been approved for development in the past, the news release stated. 

It is adjacent to the existing Earl O’Neal Sports Complex and will add a passive nature element to an already established and heavily utilized park.  

Southern Conservation Trust is a Fayetteville-based nonprofit that protects private and public lands from development throughout the Southeast. Founded in 1993, SCT has protected more than 57,000 acres in 11 states since 2016. 

In Georgia, the Trust has protected more than 32,000 acres, including 1,200 acres of public nature areas, with an additional 400-plus acres of public lands currently in progress.