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Counties working to protect greenspace

By Justin Reedy

Jim and Randy Jackson have seen the once-pastoral land around their family's farm west of Jonesboro become dotted with houses and roads over the years.

But the Jackson brothers, along with their mother, Nina Burnham Jackson, are doing what they can to help preserve the original rural character of that land.

The family recently donated to the county about 18 acres of land along the Flint River near Thomas Road and Ga. Highway 54. The land will now be permanently protected by the county as greenspace, ensuring that it will never be developed.

The donation is in line with Clayton County's efforts, as well as those of other counties in the state, under the Georgia Community Greenspace Program. The program is aimed at helping the environment by protecting undeveloped land in a state with more and more land being developed all the time.

Like its neighbor, Henry County is also participating in the state's greenspace program, and has about $1.3 million in state grants from previous years to use for land acquisition. Though it has only protected about 100 acres of land under the program so far, the county is negotiating to acquire other parcels of land to protect as greenspace.

"Our primary goals are river corridor protection, historical preservation and connectivity with other counties' greenspace programs," said Bert Foster, assistant coordinator of the Henry County Greenspace Program. "I think and hope that the property we're in negotiations for will meet that spectacularly."

Clayton County's efforts in the greenspace program have centered on protecting land along the Flint River, one of the county's major water sources, through either acquisitions or donations. Securing land along the river corridor will help improve water quality for Clayton County and other counties downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, according to Nathan Parrott, greenspace coordinator for the county.

"The storm water is going to run over the surface of the ground on the way to the river, and this natural buffer helps filter out pollutants," said Parrott. "It just serves an important purpose in cleaning the water as it runs into the river. It's sort of like the last line of defense."

For the Jackson family, it just made sense to help Clayton County accomplish its greenspace protection goals by donating some of its land along the Flint River. The family had previously donated more than 30 acres to the Clayton County Water Authority for greenspace.

"There's so much natural habitat being destroyed, it's important to preserve as much as you can," said Randy Jackson, who also works for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

By deeding the land to the county, the Jackson brothers feel they can continue their mother's previous efforts in environmental protection. The land was dedicated Thursday as the Nina Burnham Greenspace in her honor.

"The important thing that mother taught us was to respect nature," Jim Jackson explained. "Wildlife needs protection, and the water you drink needs to be protected as well. We felt the best way to preserve this land is to make it so that everyone in the county owns it so they can all look after it."

Clayton County has about $1.2 million to spend in greenspace acquisition, and county officials hope that will enable them to protect much of the land along the river from Upper Riverdale Road to the Spalding County line.

But all of the counties participating in the greenspace program suffered a temporary setback this year when the state cut its funding from the upcoming fiscal year budget. That could put some future greenspace acquisition projects on hold after the initial state grant funds are spent, but Foster says Henry County doesn't plan on letting up in its efforts to protect undeveloped land.

"Being the third-fastest growing county in the United States and having water at a premium, I can only see positive side effects from protecting greenspace," Foster said. "It's something we'll work towards regardless of the state's actions. We're hoping that (the state) revitalizes (the program) in the coming years."