Gaither plan approved

COVINGTON - A long-held dream for Gaither Plantation is one step closer to coming true.

A comprehensive, long-range master plan for the plantation gained approval from county commissioners last Tuesday night.

The plan is meant to preserve Gaither's history for generations to come while making it a viable and relevant modern day destination.

Friends of Gaither, a group of volunteers that oversees the plantation, has a goal of "creating a place where everyone will be able to find enjoyment and learning activities," said member Gene Wallace.

"It's a comprehensive plan that also includes the preservation and enhancement of the plantation's natural resources," he said.

Wallace said the goal is to keep the plantation open to the public on a more regular basis.

Elements of the plan include:

· Trails to provide access to fields, forests, streams, wildlife and native vegetation;

· Outdoor classrooms for schoolchildren providing live demonstrations and hands-on experience of days gone by;

· Guided and unguided tours;

· A new 5,000-square-foot building for display and storage of historic farm equipment;

· A new wildflower field and update to the hummingbird and wildlife garden;

· A 200-seat amphitheater in the woods to be used during educational events, festivals and private events and parties;

· Interpretive signs for self-guided walking tours;

· Fields planted with historically accurate crops such as corn, sweet potatoes and cotton;

· A "work camper" program, where travelers will work at the plantation in exchange for RV utility hookups;

· Expansion of existing income-producing events such as weddings, movie set rentals, tours and festivals;

· Hiring of a full-time coordinator of events and a professional forester; and

· A forest stewardship program for management of plantation lands and adjacent property purchased for Bear Creek Reservoir.

The plan also calls for the entrance to the plantation to be moved north of its current location on Davis Ford Road so visitors will enter at the Historic Village. The village contains historic buildings moved to the plantation from various locations throughout the county. Currently, the site has a church, an old country store and a log cabin, and soon it will include an old-fashioned schoolhouse.

The estimate to implement the entire plan is approximately $2.9 million, though Wallace emphasized that is a preliminary cost that will be subject to more analysis and could change.

Friends of Gaither is seeking nonprofit status in hopes of obtaining grants and donations from the public. Other possible funding sources could be through the county budget, and later, establishment of an entry fee at the plantation or adding a gift shop.

Restoring Gaither Plantation to its former glory and preserving it for future generations was a dream started by the late Davis Morgan, a former county commission chairman who saw an opportunity to purchase the property for a reservoir and to preserve the county's agricultural history. A portion of the Gaither land will be under water when the new Bear Creek reservoir comes online.

Friends of Gaither began drawing up a master plan in 2005, and sought input from the public in 2006 before Jordan, Jones and Goulding was hired to complete the final plan. The plan was paid for by the county and through funds raised by Friends of Gaither from plantation activities.

Wallace said there is no set timeline for implementation of the plan, adding that it would be a slow process determined by available funds.

Anyone would who would like to make a donation should make checks payable to Newton County Board of Commissioners and write Gaither Plantation in the memo line.

Checks may be mailed to Newton County Board of Commissioners; Historic Courthouse; Attention: Lori Smith; 1124 Clark St.; Covington, GA 30014.

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