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They Want to Burn My Mountain

by Phil Whitley

Phil hiking on Pine Mountain Trail

I call it my mountain because that's the way I feel about it. I was born in a house in the valley that it shelters, and everyone that lives or has lived there calls it their mountain. It inspired a president. The state park on its crest bears his name ? Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park. I hiked its slopes before there were hiking trails and I absorbed its beauty into my soul before there were digital cameras. Pine Mountain is an integral part of my very being.

Over the years natural evolution has converted what once must have been a pine-covered mountain (thus the name) into a hardwood forest of breathtaking beauty. Oak, hickory and many other species of hardwoods dominate in one of the most beautiful forests in the southeast. Among these hardwoods is a stand of American Chestnuts that somehow avoided the blight that nearly caused their extinction across America.

"Roosevelt's grill" atop Dowdell's Knob

And now the Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants to burn the mountain, kill all the hardwoods, and replace them with longleaf pine.

When I first learned of this (it was only in November, 2010) my daughter saw me cry for the first time in her seventeen years. I wasn't ashamed of my tears, but ever since she was very young I have taken her to see my mountain and she has grown to love it as much as I, and part of the reason for my tears was knowing that I had to tell her that our mountain was to be burned.

The beauty is not only appreciated by humans. Kathleen Walls and her dog Romeo playing with a goat that was roaming the mountaintop.

Shortly after I learned of this, the Pine Mountain Trail Association created an online petition for people who disagree with the state's plans and began circulating it and appealing for signatures. Meanwhile, the Trail Association requested a meeting with officials of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This meeting was held in early December and joining the group were officials from the Georgia State Parks system. These 13 men hiked to various locations on Pine Mountain within the park and discussed the issues of prescribed burning and longleaf pine restoration there. The PMTA made their position very clear that finding some common ground and re-evaluating the long-range burn plans. After much deliberation, the DNR agreed to review the prescribed burning plans and report back to them.

In the interim, we never stopped pleading for people to sign the petition, and grieving over what we thought was going to be the outcome in spite of our efforts. We had collected nearly 1000 signatures in such a short time, but we feared that was not going to be enough.

Then on December 16 th we received a message from John Carroll of the Trail Association.

It read, in part:

OUR VOICES WERE HEARD and action was taken! This week, the DNR agreed to postpone any significant prescribed burns of Pine Mountain until a prescribed fire needs assessment plan is completed with input from the Pine Mountain Trail Association.

Also, as part of the agreement, the DNR:
1. Will not burn 1,478 acres of hardwood forest at FDR State Park in January 2011, as originally planned.
2. Will focus longleaf pine restoration efforts to smaller, more appropriate sites on Pine Mountain, and not over the entire park.
3. Will protect mature hardwoods.
4. Will apply best forestry practices to protect recreational sites such as the Pine Mountain Trail and primitive campsites.

Clearly, this is great news for all supporters of the Pine Mountain Trail and FDR State Park. The outpouring of community support was significant and had a big impact on the DNR's decision, and ultimately, toward preserving the integrity of the oak-hickory dominant forest at Pine Mountain.

My faith in humanity was restored, and I learned that collectively, WE THE PEOPLE do have power and a voice that can be heard. We must never forget that when people come together for a common cause, mountains can be moved, and in this case, saved from the flames!


Phil Whitley was born on January 1rst, 1943 in his maternal grandparents' home in the rural, unincorporated town of Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia, while his father was in the South Pacific theater of World War II.

He spent his younger life exploring the slopes and streams of Pine Mountain and enjoying its natural beauty while l ooking for artifacts of the indigenous Creek Indians that once populated the area. He tried to imagine the life they must have lived , which led him to begin writing novels of historical fiction set in the area and based on these enigmatic people.

Phil is the author of two historical fiction novels, Keechie, published in 2005, and Granny Boo, released December, 2009. He also writes southern humor with two short stories published in the Wizards of Words Anthologies of 2008 and 09.

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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