One the state’s most endangered Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) has a chance to be protected from looming development, and if it happens, a big chunk of the money will come from county residents.
The Paulding County Commission two weeks ago voted to place a $15 million bond referendum on the November ballot to help the state buy approximately 7,200 acres of Paulding Forest WMA. Currently, the state leases about 25,000 acres for Paulding Forest WMA, but all of that leased land could be lost at any time.
This effort marks the first time in Georgia that a county is asking its residents to help pay for a big chunk of land that would be protected and managed by the state as a WMA.
Noel Holcomb, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), praised Paulding County for its foresight in trying to protect what he described as one of the state’s best WMAs.
Other counties like Cobb and Gwinnett that are already mostly urban and suburban have passed bond referendums, but they are buying very small parcels that cost more than the $15 million that Paulding County wants to spend.
“Paulding sees the way it is coming, and they’re talking about doing it when you can buy significant acreage for the same amount of money,” Noel said.
Kevin Kirby, chairman of Citizens for Preserving Paulding, a group in favor of the bond referendum, said support comes from both ends of the political spectrum.
“In Paulding County, everything seems to be either pro-growth or no-growth. This transcends this. Paulding County has an opportunity to preserve a tract of land that will never come again. This is something everyone in the county can get behind, the old-timers and the newcomers,” Kevin said.
If Paulding voters approve the bond referendum, property taxes would increase approximately 2/10ths of a mil, which equates to about $23.40 a year for a $200,000 home.
“Cobb County has a bond referendum of $40 million to buy 400 acres. We can do this now, or that is the situation you get into later,” Kevin added.
The total cost for purchasing the Paulding tract would be approximately $45 million. Joining Paulding County residents in footing the bill would be state and federal contributions, and potentially private donors.
Noel said, “I think we can bring, like we typically do, a very unique, multi-partnership group of people to the table to do something significant.”
Eric Beatty is a hunter and Paulding native who supports the plan.
“Right now the county is on such an increase of subdivision growth, especially along the southern end of our WMA. With that growth going on, and with the unknown future of the City of Atlanta property, if we don’t do something with this now, the WMA that we know now is going to go away. If the state doesn’t buy it, it will be turned into a subdivision. Hunters will be left with absolutely nothing,” Eric said. “The main thing is if we pass it, we have to watch them in the future and make sure they don’t turn it into a park.”
Paulding County Commission Chairman Jerry Shearin said the county is committed to the follow-through after the land is purchased.
“If we’re successful and we buy this land, I’m adamant about protecting it and making sure it will never get sold. No. 2, if the county voters vote for this, and the state doesn’t follow through, then we’ll buy the land and no one else gets to hunt here except Paulding countians.”