On February 21, 2023, The Conservation Fund and Jones County announced the protection of the historic, 28-acre Jake’s Woods property in Clinton, Georgia.
After a period of ecological restoration, it will become a new county park, open to the public starting in 2024.
The recreation potential of this property is expected to draw outdoor enthusiasts from across the region and will support a growing natural tourism economy to help revitalize Jones County, Clinton and Gray.
This effort also secures a much-desired public greenspace for local community residents.
Jones County worked The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, to acquire the Jake’s Woods site. The Fund had identified the property’s recreational potential and value as a multi-faceted greenspace and encouraged the County to apply for a Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Grant to secure and restore the site.
“Sustainable access to climbing is good for health and wellness, rural economies and the environment — connecting more people to nature and inspiring them to protect and conserve the lands they love,” says Zachary Lesch-Huie, vice president of programs & acquisitions at Access Fund.
“We’re excited to partner with The Conservation Fund to help preserve this unique climbing area, which will offer an entire boulder field for climbers of all ability levels,” he added.
Jake’s Woods gets its namesake from Jacob Hutchings, a stone mason who hand-quarried this 28-acre granite boulder field both as a slave pre-Civil War and as a free man and business owner after emancipation.
He acquired the quarry property during the Reconstruction period and went on to become one of the first Black legislators in the Georgia General Assembly.
The Hutchings family continued to pass down and steward his property for generations. They worked with the County, The Conservation Fund and many local partners to see their land permanently protected for all to enjoy.
“The granite blocks that Jacob quarried for these woods can be found all over the county, including at cemeteries, street curbs and even the steps of the former Clinton courthouse,” said Florence Walker, great-great-granddaughter of Jacob Hutchings.
“We are so thrilled to see this property preserved as a public greenspace and as another addition to our family’s legacy,” she added.
Enormous granite boulders remain scattered across the property, making it an ideal landscape for rock climbing and bouldering — a rare amenity in central Georgia.
“This project is exciting on many levels. It will provide new recreational opportunities for residents of Jones County and the surrounding area, and it will preserve a unique piece of Jones County history,” said Jones County Administrator, Jason Rizner.
The Fund then collaborated closely with the Hutchings family to purchase their property in June 2022, transferred the land to the County in February 2023 and will continue working with a consortium of partners to implement the Hutchings’ and County’s vision for the greenspace.
“The environmental, cultural and economic benefits of this conservation effort cannot be overstated,” said Roberta Moore, Southeast field representative for The Conservation Fund.
“As a rock climber and a proponent of recognizing and sharing untold histories, I’m honored to support the Hutchings family and the County to make their goals for Jake’s Woods a reality,” she continued.
In addition to its unique topography, the Jake’s Woods property supports wildlife habitat and diverse plant species that thrive in rich woodland habitats, including Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum).
The project was funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program, which covered much of the County’s acquisition costs and will support the development of Jake’s Woods into a multi-use greenspace.
Over the next year, the County will work with various partners to develop facilities, educational and interpretive signage, and other elements around the park to capture its important history and unique ecology.
Meg Evans, SCC executive director said, “SCC is proud to work alongside The Conservation Fund, Jones County, Access Fund and our other partners to honor the history and natural beauty of Jake’s Woods. We hope that future generations can enjoy exploring the incredible granite boulders and the climbing opportunities that exist there. This bouldering area and public park is a huge win for the small but mighty climbing community growing in Macon, Georgia. SCC looks forward to calling volunteers to action over the next few months to help beautify the boulder field. Any interested volunteers can reach out to email@example.com.”
Partners include the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, Access Fund, Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC), Atlanta Preservation Center, Old Clinton Historical Society (OCHS) and the Hutchings family.
“OCHS has long recognized the historical significance of Jake’s Woods with its almost magical granite outcroppings surrounded by greenspace and has always been an outspoken advocate for its protection in perpetuity,” said OCHS President, Earlene Hamilton.
“The partnership between The Conservation Fund and the County to ultimately achieve this goal has created a win for all involved: the Hutchings family who held on to the land for all these years; OCHS who never gave up looking for a solution; The Conservation Fund who recognized its value and potential; and the Jones County Commission Board for agreeing to make it happen,” she concluded.
All photos courtesy of The Conservation Fund.