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Oglethorpe Family Chooses Conservation Over Development

By Denise Horton and ORLT Staff

Jennifer Lytle began joining her attorney father at the office when she was just 4 years old and was drafting pleadings when she was 10.

Born in Athens when her father was attending law school at the University of Georgia, Lytle grew up in Marietta, with a creek that ran through her backyard and provided her first opportunities for experiencing the great outdoors. She also recalls the joy she found visiting Lake Rabun, a Georgia Power lake Known for its clear, clean water.

After earning her undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s in finance, Lytle began working in mergers and acquisitions for the Dutch-based Hagemeyer company. She later accepted a position with another company that led to her focusing on forensic accounting.

“I ended up serving as an interpreter between lawyers and accountants, so that’s when I decided to go to law school,” she says with a chuckle.

As a lawyer, Lytle discovered that legal research and numbers were her forte. She used those skills for several years as a litigator before shifting her focus to other areas of law, including land conservation.

Now Lytle and her family have become conservators of the land, having decided to protect 40 acres of family-owned land in Oglethorpe County themselves with a conservation easement in 2017. The property contains oak-hickory-pine forests as well as a mesic hard wood forest of beech and oak trees. A tributary of Millstone Creek crosses the property, bordered by large, resurrection fern and moss-covered granite boulders. The stream’s forested banks are home to a diversity of wildflowers, including black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens). The property is also located less than a mile from 4 other ORLT conservation easements, protecting another 376 acres.

Lytle and her husband, Mark, initially contemplated building a home on the land.

“Mark was an apprentice in the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture,” Lytle explains. “He found boulders that he was going to incorporate into a house.”

However, as time went by, the couple realized that although there was much to appreciate about living in the middle of a large tract of land where their nearest neighbor was a granite quarry, the rural location was a bit too remote for daily life, especially as their children became involved with various school and recreational activities. The Lytles also realized that placing the 40 acres into a conservation easement would permanently protect the beautiful property while still allowing them to establish an organic garden and continue outdoor recreation in an already existing open area.

“Mark has long had a passion for making sure we remember where our food comes from and since part of our property is already cleared and zoned agricultural, we’ve already been able to begin to create several garden beds with the help of an employee who is living there,” Lytle says.

Although the Lytles are avid hunters, Jennifer says hunting won’t be allowed on the family’s property for at least the next several years.

“Hunting is allowed all around that tract so I think it will be nice to provide a small reserve for deer and other animals,” she says. “I plan to put out feed plots that will encourage animals to visit our property. Over time, we might decide to occasionally kill a large deer that we will use as food for our family.”

The Lytles have recently moved into a former cotton mill in the small Northeast Georgia town of Comer that has been restored and renovated by Mark to ensure privacy and modern conveniences while still maintaining much of the traditional architecture. The mill also

houses their offices in an adjoining part of the building.

Lytle says she looks forward to talking further with ORLT land steward Laura Hall regarding management of the conservation easement and to working with other conservationists in finding and protecting land.

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