Date: Jan 25, 2008
Title: Oaky Woods Adds to Quality of Life in Houston County
by Alex H. Morrow
Why Save Oaky Woods? I suppose there are some folks out there who wonder what the fuss is about. Why save Oaky Woods? I’m taking a stab at answering that question.
It could be pointed out that humans cannot exist on this planet without adequate vegetative cover to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen so we’ll have a breathable atmosphere. Any green space we can keep in Houston County enhances the air quality and keeps us healthier. Scattered trees in the back yards of subdivision lots can never come close to equaling the oxygen production of a swath of mature forest such as Oaky Woods. Oaky Woods also eliminates tons of pollution from the air while it produces oxygen for us. Oaky Woods is busy cleaning our air and pumping fresh oxygen into our skies. We need to keep that pump running.
It could, also, be pointed out that humans cannot exist on this planet without adequate vegetative cover to insure the slow percolation of rain water into and through the soil, cleaning and collecting the rainwater in our underground aquifers so we can have drinking water and water for crop irrigation. The cleansing and collecting of rain water done by a mature forest with lots of leaf litter on the ground exceeds any cleansing and collecting of rain water that can be expected from a storm water detention basin in a subdivision. The loss of Oaky Woods would represent a net reduction in the quality and quantity of water recharging the Southeastern Coastal Plain aquifer system which rests below Houston County, Georgia.
But, we can answer the question from a less scientific angle and look at other reasons we should save Oaky Woods. For example, there are a vast number of citizens in Houston County who use Oaky Woods as a place of spiritual refuge. As the renowned naturalist John Muir put it, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." Oaky Woods is such a place. Human worries and the human clock are not important to the animals and plants of Oaky Woods. The plants and animals there have their own agenda and the sun and the moon are their clocks. When a human takes refuge in Oaky Woods, he or she enters a world where human, day-to-day concerns are not paramount. Oaky Woods is a place where, just for a little while, a person can forget his cares and find real peace, solitude, and quiet.
Oaky Woods is accessible to every age group of citizens in middle Georgia. But, it seems terribly important to me that we provide our youth with permanent access to this area. I know it is dangerous to generalize and I stand to be challenged on this assertion, but I firmly believe that a major cause of the loss of civility in human society is the fact that very many young people grow up without experiencing a reality where human activities are not the totality of the experience. Chat rooms, internet web sites, video games, television shows all focus primarily on human activities and relationships. Humans and their actions become the center of the universe. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, for youths so entertained to fully appreciate that they are a part of an incredibly complex web of life that must exist in a cooperative, mutually supportive state for life on this planet to survive. A study of the forest ecosystem would give them some idea of this web of life. This study might help them recognize that they are a very small part of a larger, interdependent whole and it could help youths develop a sense of humility that might result in the exercise of more patience, care, and concern as they relate to other people. Maybe this healthy humility would prevent the formation of an oversized ego and self-centered view of life that ultimately results in the excessive pursuit of self-gratification. Similarly, an immersion in an environment where the human clock is not relevant and where the universe keeps its own time could be a mind expanding experience that would help youth understand that there are patient forces at work in the world and that great and important events can take time to happen. This experience might help some youths grow beyond their expectation that everything must happen for them "right now".
Oaky Woods is unique in that it offers up sights and experiences not to be had elsewhere. Where else can the citizens of Houston County go to see a limestone bluff containing sand dollars that are from 30 to 38 million years old? In Oaky Woods, the citizens of Houston County can stand where whales once swam. The experience gives rise to a profound recognition of the age of the earth and the reality that monumental environmental changes have and can occur on our planet. If the development of Oaky Woods proceeds, this site will be under a man-made lake.
Oaky Woods offers up trees that are champions of their species. They have been on this planet for a century and a half or longer. They are giants of their kind...right here in middle Georgia. I know this will sound a little far-fetched, but I wonder if anyone else has ever experienced the thrill of sitting at the base of such a living wonder and meditating on its age and vitality long enough to feel the energy running through the tree just under the bark? I suspect I’m not the only one who has experienced this. Preserving Oaky Woods will allow generations of Houston County citizens the opportunity to connect with these giants. If the development of Oaky Woods proceeds, these trees will be cut down and the stumps covered by a man-made lake. Oaky Woods offers up wildflowers on the blackland prairies which offer unspeakable beauty to be walked through and enjoyed. This rare ecosystem will soon be under asphalt, houses, and centipede lawns. The strangest thing about the planned development of this area is that the soil of these prairies is not well suited for the support of house foundations and construction on it is needlessly expensive. Houston County citizens need places of beauty like blackland prairies to spend time in. Preserving Oaky Woods would assure this.
With the rapid pace of development in Houston County and the rate of deforestation in the area the animals in Houston County are suffering from loss of habitat. The number and variety of wild animals in Houston County, Georgia, is being reduced dramatically with each day that passes. The planned development of Oaky Woods will result in the radical alteration of a large tract of land that now provides an ideal habitat for bears, bobcats, foxes, wild pigs, raccoons, deer, beavers, otters, maybe panthers, other animals, and a wide variety of birds, including bald eagles. When Oaky Woods is developed the understory plants that provide cover, nesting, and food for animals will be removed. Dens will be bulldozed. The creek will be flooded. Buildings will be built. Roads will be built. Fences will be built. The resulting environment will not sustain a wide variety of wild animals. The animals will be pushed out of their homes and forever barred from reentry, except as unwelcome trespassers.
We are stewards of this planet. We must preserve the animals' habitat. When we reach the point where we do not care about the existence of the other animals that live on this planet with us, we will have reached the point of threatening the health of our own species. The health of the ecosystem and the health of the human population are inextricably linked, whether we want to be bothered with that reality or not. We can preserve the treasure of Oaky Woods and the human beings that inhabit Houston County will forever be richer for it. There can be no nature trails, no walking trails, no biking trails, no Boy Scouts camps, no environmental education for the school teachers of tomorrow, no father /son hunting opportunities, no quiet walks in the woods and soon, no black bear population in central Georgia if this property is lost to development.
Drive down the road to Oaky Woods. There is a prominent overlook on the left as you near the location of the ranger station. Stop, get out of your car, walk to the point where you can see out over the valley that contains Big Grocery Creek. Stand quietly, listen, let your body feel, and look around slowly. At first, you’ll hear nothing. Then you’ll begin to hear the winds of past and present life slowly, gently sighing by your ears. At first, you’ll feel nothing. Then you’ll begin to feel the vibration of all the energy existent before and below you in the animals, the plants, the water and the atmosphere. Look down, you’ll see the microcosm at your feet, the soil, the grass, the herbaceous plants, the insects in it all. Look up, you’ll see the macrocosm of the infinite universe above. Look left, look right, look straight ahead. What you’ll see is pristine wilderness where man is largely irrelevant and where nature unimpeded by man finds and maintains its own balance and keeps its own time. What you won’t see is a single house. Then listen for the screeching, rending sound of coming destruction and change and recognize that in a very short while all that you're hearing, feeling, and seeing will be of the past, gone and never to return. You’ll understand at that moment why we must save Oaky Woods.