Ceylon tract (Open Space Institute)

ATLANTA – The Georgia Board of Natural Resources voted Tuesday to acquire 4,420 acres of undeveloped coastal habitat in southeastern Georgia from The Conservation Fund and the Open Space Institute.

Capitol Beat News Service
This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

The land is part of the 16,083 acre Ceylon tract, which the two preservation groups bought a year ago with the intent of transferring ownership to the state.

The largest undeveloped tract of coastal Georgia is located along the Satilla River in Camden County. The diverse landscape of salt marshes, tidal creeks and longleaf pine forests is home to threatened and endangered species including the gopher tortoise and indigo snake.

The Ceylon tract is close enough to the Interstate 95 corridor that it likely would be developed without the state and the conservation groups stepping in.

“This property is zoned to be able to take over 20,000 single-family homes, high density,” said Andrew Schock, Georgia state director for the Conservation Fund. “Three million square feet of commercial space and up to two deep-water marinas all were possible on this site.”

The purchases approved Tuesday involve two parcels, a 2,903-acre site owned by The Conservation Fund and 1,517 acres owned by the Open Space Institute.

While the state is paying $6.45 million for the two sites, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is getting contributions from several sources, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chicago-based Bobolink Foundation and the new Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Fund.

The state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment two years ago to raise money for land conservation, restoration and parks projects through a tax on purchases of sporting goods. The Ceylon tract qualified for the program’s first round of funding awarded earlier this year.

The two sites approved for acquisition Tuesday are for the first phase of the project, Steve Friedman, the DNR’s chief of real estate, told board members. He said he would come to the board with the second phase of the proposed purchases late next year.

The Ceylon tract borders Cabin Bluff, another undeveloped site the state is in the process of acquiring. The DNR board voted in October to purchase nearly 8,000 acres there from the same two conservation groups.

Cabin Bluff tract (Nature Conservancy)

“Cabin Bluff and … Ceylon are significant natural areas in Georgia,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “An incredible array of native species will continue to call the property and its waters home.”

Both the Ceylon and Cabin Bluff sites are slated to become Georgia DNR wildlife management areas.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service.

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.