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GWF gets grant for wetlands

COVINGTON - The Georgia Wildlife Federation has received a $40,000 grant to restore and protect 3.5 acres of wetlands along the Alcovy River at East End Road in Covington.

The grant comes courtesy of the National Association of Counties through it's Five Star Restoration Challenge Grant Program, which helps implement locally driven wetland and watershed restorations.

The Wildlife Federation owns about 17 acres on East End Road with half a mile of frontage on the Alcovy River, including the wetland area, according to Vice President for Development Terry Tatum.

"It is an undeveloped wetland. It's not a huge area, but it certainly is being impacted from all directions," Tatum said.

The grant money will be used for several purposes: First, to clean up the site, which has become a dumping ground for garbage, Tatum said.

The federation put up a gate to prevent people from dumping their trash there, but the gate is contributing to erosion, she said.

The plan is to implement a trail system that will be too narrow for cars to drive on but will allow better access to the river. Along the trail system will be interpretive signs and a kiosk with information on the importance of wetlands and of the Alcovy River to Newton County residents.

In the future, the site could provide educational opportunities for the county's youth, including children who attend summer camp at the FFA-FCCLA Center, Tatum said. Fishing and canoeing trips for kids may be offered.

The grant money will also be used to clear away invasive plant species such as Chinese privet, which are competing with native plants for space, she said.

Wildlife such as deer, water fowl and otters occupy the site, but most important are the macroinvertebrates in the river, Tatum said. Water quality can be determined by the type and number of the macroinvertebrates found in the river - the organisms help maintain the health of the water ecosystem by eating bacteria and dead, decaying plants and animals.

The wetland is a good site to study the impact of development on water quality, Tatum said. The wetland itself is protected from development by a permanent easement and is part of a protected riparian buffer along the Alcovy.

The National Association of Counties recently awarded $246,100 in grants to sustain 10 projects in various counties across the country. Since 1997, the association has helped fund projects in 118 counties, providing a total of nearly $1.2 million for community based environmental restoration and education. The Five Star Restoration Program has supported more than 400 projects with more than $4 million in federal funds.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.