Some 1,800 acres at scenic and historic Johnson's Crook may be sold by the Georgia Land Trust to a contractor, but officials said a conservation easement would be part of the deal.
Katherine Eddins, executive director of the land trust, said Royce and Gloria Cornelison of P&C Construction have bought a barn and some ruins at the Lookout Mountain site at Rising Fawn, Ga., in Dade County, and are interesting in acquiring the rest of the property.
She said in an email to "Friends of Johnson's Crook" that the state is not in a position to take title to the land - even if the land trust deeded it over to them.
The property goes from near the top of the mountain near the old site of the Plum Nelly Art Festival to the valley below and includes a number of caves. A road that was used by soldiers during the Civil War goes from the top of the mountain through the property.
The Southern Land Company had acquired the property with plans to develop it as "The Preserve." But two people involved with that scheme were arrested and convicted of fraud, and the property went into bankruptcy. The land trust acquired the property out of bankruptcy and through gifts from banks who lost millions of dollars in the fraud.
Ms. Eddins said in the email, "There are rumors flying around about the land trust and our use/intentions about the Preserve. Apparently, there is a rumor that we have sold the land to a developer, and/or plan to develop the land.
"We still own the land, and are in no contract concerning the land. We do not intend to develop the land. The mission of the Georgia Land Trust is to protect land for present and future generations. We are not a development company.
"We have been speaking with several families about acquiring all or a portion of our 1800 acres, and the purchaser permanently conserving the land with a conservation easement. One such family, the Cornelisons, acquired the barn and ruins from the Bankruptcy Trustee. Royce and Gloria Cornelison and their sons have been talking with a framer about restoring the ruins to a functional home. Some confusion might abound because the Cornelisons are in the construction business. This family has conserved several farms and forests, and are considering working with Georgia Land Trust to preserve this land permanently.
"One question that has come up concerns transferring the land to the State to use as a WMA and hunting preserve. The State does not have the funds to manage the land, even if it were gifted to them by us.
"We will continue to explore the best ways to protect AND steward Johnson's Crook and will be sending out periodic updates."