The Georgia Department of Natural Resources gift to outdoor enthusiasts in Northwest Georgia this Christmas is another 890 acres that has been added to the Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area.
The WMA, now encompassing more than 26,000 acres, straddles the Paulding and Polk County line southeast of Rockmart.
Steve Friedman, chief of real estate for the DNR, said the purchase protects the headwaters of Raccoon Creek — a tributary of the Etowah River — that supports significant populations of the endangered Etowah darter, threatened Cherokee darter and other rare fish.
Daniel Booke, a game management section supervisor, said grant funding related to the numerous endangered aquatic species was probably reason for money being made available for the acquisition.
The 890 acres acquired by the state includes property on both sides of U.S. 278.
“It will be open for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, you name it,” Friedman said. “It’s a beautiful resource that I hope a lot of people will take advantage of.”
The Silver Comet Trail runs right through the WMA; however there are not actually a lot of designated trails through the forest. David Gregory, a wildlife biologist with the DNR Armuchee Region 1 office, said the Paulding Forest is special because it includes one of the largest populations of montane longleaf pine trees in all of Northwest Georgia.
“A lot of it is what we just purchased,” Gregory said.
The montane longleaf forest is a priority habitat for conservation in Georgia. Paulding Forest was identified as a priority area in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan and in the Etowah River Habitat Conservation Plan.
Gregory said the area is excellent for both deer and turkey hunting, but that fishing opportunities are somewhat limited. It also has a population of wild hogs that go up and down depending on the food supply in any given year.
“It does provide trout fishing and that’s unique for that far south,” Gregory said. “Having that trout fishery — along with the unique wildlife habitat — that close to Atlanta and the north metro area is really a treasure in their backyard.”
Friedman made a point of saying the DNR could never have purchased the tract without significant assistance from The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“There is no way we could have done this project without their support,” he said.