Joan Maloof, founder and executive director of the OGFN, said old growth forests are important because they represent maximum productivity nature can create on a particular piece of land. She said it was important for people to understand the importance of the biodiversity of the unscathed forest.

Katie Owens, local representative for the Nature Conservancy, told a crowd that the Marshall Forest is the second largest preserve the Conservancy manages in Georgia. It has over 300 species of flora, more than 50 different types of trees and an abundance of wildlife, particularly several different species of salamanders.

"It's looking better than ever before," Owens told local conservationists who participated in the annual walk along the Big Pine Braille Trail in the forest off Horseleg Creek Road.

Owens said the Conservancy became interested in the property years ago largely because of a large population of large-flowered skullcaps, a federally endangered species, which can be found up the Dorsey Trail in the forest. She said the trail also passes through a section of rare montagne longleaf pine

"We doing this for the next generation," Maloof said. "We want to preserve that relationship with the forest." She said as more people become aware of the significance of the forest, more people would be willing to step up to preserve it.

The OGFN now has 83 forests in 21 states and she said it is adding more acreage almost exponentially.

"The more we talk to people about it, the more we hear suggestions about forests to add to the network," Maloof said.

Maloof first came to visit the Marshall Forest last year after a visit with family and friends in the Rome area.

"One thing unique about it is its accessibility. It is so close to town, yet it really is a true ancient forest," Maloof said. "To have this piece of land that is so close to town be protected for so long, over generations, is very special."

Marc Weed, one of Robert Weed's sons, thanked the crowd and various supporters for assistance in improvements that have been made to the entrance to the forest over the past year, and said the family is working with the city to get a street light on a pole right outside the entrance to cut down on some activity in the parking lot at night that has not been as positive to keeping the forest in pristine condition.

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