Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Le-Conte to open by appointment only

Le-Conte Woodmanston is by appointment only
Recent vandalism, work on master plan aide decision
Sept. 4, 2010

Continuing to feel the pinch of a tight economy and a few recent incidents of vandalism and theft have forced the Le-Conte Woodmanston Plantation to lock its wrought iron gate and be open for tours by appointment only.

In July Mary Beth Evans, executive vice president of the LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation announced the section of the site which encompasses the Botanical Gardens re-created slave cabin and the hunting lodge would be closed off with gates and signs while the board searches for sources of funding to enable the foundation to hire fulltime, paid staff and create a sustainable future.

During that time folks still had access to the nature trails which winded through Bull Town Swamp and included the original rice fields and floodgate pond.

Evans said the board was still working on the master plan but the lack of funds and the recent discovery of vandalism and trash forced extra security measures.

Jennifer Heider Buehler, the foundations development director and secretary for the board said, “We had some vandalism, we had some theft and we have found an increase of trash at floodgate pond which is a shame. We’ve noticed an increase in beer cans and bottles, sandwich wraps and trash. I think hearing the word closed people felt like it was abandoned and an open free for all and we had some items stolen.”

Evans said among the items stolen was a lawnmower, tools and other random items. Buehler said she wants to put the word out that the site is not abandoned and the board has taken measures to increase security.

“The gates will be locked and tours will be provided by appointment only,” she said. “We’ve asked the sheriff’s department to increase patrol through the Greenway trailhead area.”

The Coastal Georgia Greenway picnic grove/trailhead is a section of picnic tables and walks just before the gate entrance of Le-Conte and is always accessible and open to the public Buehler said.

Buehler said access to LeConte requires setting up an appointment for a tour or prior authorization by a board member for volunteer, research and other purposes.

“Without prior authorization…then yes it’s considered trespassing,” she said. “We do have some of the locals that we have always been very open and free with them being able to come and fish at floodgate pond. To those certain individuals…they live within walking distance and have always been excellent stewards of Le-Conte and we still welcome them and their patronage. Their families have fished there for over a hundred years and we have no problems with them.”

Buehler said they spotted items suggesting people may be hunting inside the Plantation’s grounds.

“We have noticed an increase in hunting back there, we noticed some shells and hunting is absolutely not permitted anywhere on the Le-Conte-Woodmanston grounds,” she said.

Changing to an appointment only program was also prompted by a lack of funds and what Evans and Buehler call the lack of a sustainable master plan.

When Evans came on board in 2007 the board was using the old plan set in place in 1982 when the Garden Club of Georgia bought into the idea that reconstructing the rice plantation was a sustainable plan even though they were advised against it by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Historical Preservation Society.

New projects like The Walk: at LeConte-Woodmanston: An African-American Tribute and the addition of the Camellia garden were started but a formal plan was never written or reviewed.

Even more changes are forthcoming to Le-Conte Woodmanston as Evans said she official notified the board of her resignation due to person and physical reasons.

Her resignation becomes effective Oct. 1.

I will provide you the details of Evans decision and a response from the Board in a future blog.