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30 Stories for 30 Years: Hawks Own the Pasture

Smith Wilson and Dianne Penny placed their scenic farm on Morton Road in a conservation easement in 2017. This fall, our 30th Anniversary Celebration (invitation to come soon!) will be held on their beautiful land. In what follows, Smith and Dianne share the story of their land, which they have seen evolve over the last four decades.

Dianne and Smith on their protected property in Athens.


" When we moved to Morton Road in 1981, it was a beautiful rural road with open fields and few houses. We purchased fifty acres and renovated the existing cottage and barn on the front twelve. Old pastures were restored, and the house and farm buildings grew organically to accommodate our growing family: two daughters– and dogs, cats, chickens, draft mules and horses. There were 38 acres of woods on the back of the property."


"Once in agricultural use, the “Back Forty” had laid undisturbed for fifty years, and over time, reverted to hardwood forest. Among the trees in the upland area are mature oaks (white and southern red), pignut hickory, redbud, and loblolly pine. Yellow poplar, sweet gum, box elder, and red maple stand in the bottomland. There are two black walnut trees in the bottoms, one of which Walt Cook said is the largest he has ever seen. The back of the property drops off abruptly to Shoal Creek and creates a high ridge that offers a surprising broad vista over the flood plain. Three springs on the property surface and follow fern-edged ravines to the bottoms. Wild azaleas and mayapples bloom along banks above the streams. Deep golden chanterelles spring up around trees when the woods are warm and steamy from a heavy rain. The still-visible old farming roads are crossed with trails for walking and wagon rides. Hawks own the pastures, and barn owls swoop paths in the woods. We’ve seen both red and grey foxes, families of deer, and although not seen, heard the haunting howls of coyotes."


"We have always been concerned that the Back Forty might be developed someday. One of our cherished memories is Walt Cook (at the age of 89!) working all day to attach Oconee River Land Trust boundary signs around our easement. It’s deeply satisfying to know that this small and beautiful woods on Morton Road is now protected and preserved."

A view of Shoal Creek

Walt Cook and Smith in the pastures of the farm.


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