Alliance wants national designation

By Michael Davis

A group of natural resource conservationists may still have a shot at getting a region that includes part of Henry County declared a National Heritage Area.

Congress recessed last week without taking up a bill that would include the naming of several National Heritage Areas, including Arabia Mountain, which sits in DeKalb County. But when they reconvene next week, the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance hopes to get the park and thousands of surrounding acres designated as a Heritage Area, opening it up to federal funding.

"Heritage Areas have very strong bipartisan support," said Kelly Jordan, chairman of the alliance. "We still have some hope to get it passed next week."

But a spokesperson for U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta, said the bill is in the hands of House and Senate leadership who are working out how to fund the overall bill. "As Congress prepares to adjourn for the year, I urge leaders of both the House and Senate to work out their budget differences on this bill and quickly schedule it for a vote in both chambers," Scott said in a statement Monday. Scott is one of the co-sponsors of the legislation he hopes will be included in the Heritage Area bill.

The alliance has worked for more than eight years to acquire land around Dekalb County's 570-acre Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. The total area now under their reach is 4,000 acres, Jordan said, and he hopes to take it up to 6,000 acres.

Arabia Senior Park Ranger and Interpretive Naturalist Mary Terry said the alliance's effort began as plans were finalized for DeKalb's Stonecrest Mall. "He really did start out with about 150 acres and he can't stop," Terry said of Jordan's and the alliance's efforts to secure undeveloped land.

But the proposed heritage area, Jordan said, is much bigger: about 25-square miles.

"Heritage Areas are designated areas that have historical or environmental interest for one reason or another," he said, adding the proposed area includes several sites in the tri-county area the alliance does not own.

Last year, Henry County using state greenspace funding, purchased a site at Wolf Rock which Arabia Alliance wants to link with Panola and Arabia Mountains.

Earlier this year, Jordan outlined a plan to tie Arabia and Panola Mountains together with northeastern Henry County through a series of walking and biking trails. DeKalb County already has an extensive system of trails connecting the city of Lithonia with Arabia Mountain.

Jordan calls it the "nervous system" of the community.

"It's turned into a sort of social, cultural, phenomenon," he said, adding residents sometimes use it as a place to connect with their neighbors.

Jordan said designation as a National Heritage Area would be important for Henry County because it would allow for federal funds to be used for the land's maintenance.

For more information, check www.arabiaaliance.org.