Karen Porter, a long-time activist for land preservation in Clarke County, and Dan Lorenz and the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, leaders in creating Athens’s newest park, are recipients of the 2016 Alec Little Environmental Award.
Porter, a retired faculty member from the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, has been deeply involved in efforts to protect a 310-acre woodland in western Clarke County known as Tallassee Forest. She is also coordinating an inventory and mapping of natural resources on the Athens-Clarke County Greenway, including the historic Beech Haven property off the Atlanta Highway in the central part of the county, and a rare granite outcrop in southeastern Clarke County.
Lorenz headed a committee of the Boulevard Neighborhood Association that brought together private and public resources to turn a vacant 1.8-acre lot into the Boulevard Woods Park at the intersection of Boulevard and Barber Street. The park opened earlier this year.
The Alec Little Environmental Award was established in 1991 to honor John A. (Alec) Little of Athens, who worked closely with many environmental organizations in Georgia before his death that year. The first major prize to recognize outstanding efforts in environmental activism and education in the Athens area, the award has been presented to 37 individuals and 17 organizations.
Winners of the award are chosen by an advisory board composed of past winners and representatives of the organizations that created the award shortly after Little died of a heart attack.
This year’s award will be presented April 15 at the annual GreenFest Awards Ceremony at Flinchum’s Phoenix.
Porter, a member of the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission and chair of the group’s Natural Areas Committee, was an early advocate for acquiring and protecting the Tallassee Forest, which includes old growth forest, open bottomland with canebrakes, an American holly forest and more than a mile along the Middle Oconee River. She engaged 12 experts in an extensive inventory of the site’s natural resources, documenting geology, hydrology, archaeology and many species of plants, animals and insects, including some that are rare and endangered.
The Athens-Clarke County government acquired the tract in 2013 and placed it under a conservation easement with the Oconee River Land Trust. Porter is also on the land trust board of directors and serves on a county advisory committee that is developing a management plan for the site.
Under Porter’s leadership, the greenway commission’s Natural Resources Committee is also engaging experts in an inventory and mapping of natural resources along the Oconee River corridors. This includes 14 acres adjacent to the Beech Haven property that the Oconee River Land Trust owns and plans to donate to A-CC under a conservation easement.
It also includes Rock and Shoals, a granite outcrop off Barnett Shoals Road that harbors lichens, mosses, ancient cedar trees and some rare flowers, and is now designated a county Preservation Area.
The Boulevard Neighborhood Association began planning in 2009 to create a park on a vacant lot that was donated in 1967 by W. H. Benson to the city of Athens. Lorentz, chair of the association’s park committee, and other association members, including Marci White and Allen Stovall, raised nearly $40,000 in private donations and obtained a $75,000 grant from a private foundation for the project.
The group got approval from the Athens-Clarke County government to create the park, and assistance from the Athens Land Trust, which leased the site from the county for $1 to facilitate construction. Koons Environmental Design shepherded the site plan through the government approval process and local contractor Andrew Wahlers did much of the work.
The park is under management of the A-CC Leisure Services Department with the understanding that the neighborhood association will provide maintenance assistance. At its dedication in February, the park was hailed as a model of a public-private partnership that could be replicated in other neighborhoods.
Previous winners of the Alec Little Environmental Award are Nancy Lindbloom, Laurie Fowler, Walter Cook, Joan Gould, Leo Smith Jr., Al Ike, Pam McClure, Jere Bowden, Charles Carter, Bud and Mary Freeman, Sigrid Sanders, Dick Field, Melanie Ruhlman, Smith Wilson, Dan Hope, Larry Dendy, Beth Gavrilles, Bob Barker, Nancy Stangle, Skipper StipeMass, Laura Hall, Russ Page, Elizabeth Little, Maureen O’Brien, Carl Jordan, Suzanne Lindsay, Dorothy O’Niell, Craig Page, Eric Waggoner, Gary Crider, David Berle, Hugh and Carol Nourse, Bruno Giri and Sue and Ed Wilde.
Previous organization winners are Sandy Creek Nature Center, the Broad River Watershed Association, the Community Tree Council, the UGA Environmental Law Association, the Creek Kids, the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society, the Athens Grow Green Coalition, the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, the Athens Land Trust, the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission, Bike Athens, the Oconee River Land Trust, R.E.M., the Newland Family Foundation, the UGA Go Green Alliance, Hill First Baptist Church and the EcoFocus Film Festival.
The late University of Georgia ecologist Eugene Odum received a Lifetime Achievement Award.