Between Reconstruction and World War II, lumber companies raped Georgia, clearcutting the beautiful forests that hadn’t already been cleared by greedy, slave-owning cotton farmers. Jake Moody refused to let them destroy his beloved property, known locally as Moody Swamp. He made his heirs promise not to allow its destruction. In 1999 the descendents of his heirs sold 4500 acres to The Nature Conservancy, and today that organization shares ownership and management duties with the Georgia state government. Thanks to Jake Moody’s foresight and love of nature, a remnant of old growth forest still exists here.
The Moody Forest Natural Area is located in Appling County, Georgia about a 10 minute drive north of Baxley and about a 10 minute drive south of the Hatch Nuclear Plant. It can be accessed via East River Road, a well-maintained dirt road off Highway 1. The dirt road is a smooth ride with very few bumpy rutted areas. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, there are many nice houses on the opposite side of the road from the nature preserve. The people living here must really enjoy country living–I saw not a single house for sale. A fat old dog sleeps in just about every resident’s front yard, and many people keep cows, horses, and/or chickens. One person even had an apiary. I rank East River Road as one of the best places in Georgia for a naturalist to live.
Big slash pine. Note the burned trunk. The Moody Forest Natural Area is burned on a regular schedule to improve habitat for wildlife. Mature pines and oaks usually survive light ground fires.
A swamp chestnut oak next to an old dwelling of some sort. There’s space under the shack for chickens and a covered place to hitch the mule up to. The oak is bigger than the slash pine in the above photo but a size comparison with a person wasn’t possible–by this time on our hike, the mosquitoes had chased my hiking partner into the car. There are reportedly 200 year old post oaks and overcup oaks in the preserve. Although dominated by pine, there are a surprising number of oaks here including swamp chestnut, post, Shumards or black (I can’t tell the difference between those species), southern red, overcup, and laurel.
There are 5 miles of trails in the preserve besides the access road that is adjacent to the Moody Family cemetery. Tavia’s Loop Trail is 3 miles long, and the River Trail is 2 miles long but because it’s not a loop that means it’s a 4 mile hike back and forth. If I was by myself, I would have hiked both, but there are no restrooms located anywhere near the preserve, and my wife needed one. Spending money on a public lavatory probably isn’t a high priority for The Nature Conservancy. I get the impression The Nature Conservancy doesn’t really want people to tour their protected sites. The least they could do would be to build an old fashioned rustic outhouse.
Open pine parkland woods. I didn’t see a single longleaf pine. Instead, I saw loblolly and slash pines.
350 acres of longleaf pine-wiregrass savannah occurs at Moody, but I didn’t see any. I hiked 1/2 mile up an access road and then another mile on Tavia’s trail, and I didn’t seen a single longleaf pine tree. There was barely any wiregrass. At the time of European colonization, longleaf pine savannah was the dominant landscape on the southeastern coastal plain. Even in the protected Moody Preserve it takes up less than 10% of the land area, showing just how rare it is now. Perhaps, if I had the opportunity to complete the whole loop trail, I would have come across it. Instead, I saw mostly open pine parkland dominated by loblolly pine, slash pine, and post oaks.
Information I’ve read about Moody Forest makes no mention of ferns. This type of fern is by far the most common plant in the undergrowth here. I think it’s royal fern, but I’m not sure. It’s worthwhile to see nature in person rather than just reading about it.
Here’s some wiregrass sprouting up after a recent burn. The only people we encountered were a couple of workers with firestarting equipment. By setting fires, they are mimicking Indian land management techniques . Of course, before the Indians, fires were more irregular and less frequent. Pleistocene fires may have some times been devastating. However, more often than not, Ice Age fires were less severe because the megafauna consumed so much plant material there was less fuel, and dry climate phases fostered less plant growth.
A burrow dug by an endangered gopher tortoise. I didn’t see the tortoise but I did see 2 rabbits just above the burrow. I suspect they use the burrow for shelter. I also saw a red-shouldered hawk carrying a cotton rat, turkey and black vultures, some gray squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker, deer tracks, and lots and lots of mosquitoes and gnats.
A place to hitch up the ole mule. The preserve needs an old-fashioned but working outhouse. Women don’t like to squat in the wilderness.
This former homesite has 2 fireplaces. This is one of them. There are plenty of old ruins at Moody making it doubly interesting to explore.
The Moody Natural Area offers much to explore for the naturalist and the historian. I barely scratched the surface during the brief but treasured time I was there. I didn’t even have time to see any part of the River Trail. Reportedly, 600 year old cypress trees stand there.
This cow pasture sits on the corner of Highway 1 and East River Road. It’s the only really open space I saw in the vicinity of Moody Forest. I pretended the cows were long-horned bison and imagined being in the Pleistocene. There were Canadian geese by the creek, but I don’t think they’re visible in the photo.
Altamaha River Roadside Park
I didn’t have an opportunity to hike the River Trail in Moody Forest, but I wanted to see the Altamaha River up close. The intersection off Highway 1 and the river has a Roadside Park that I investigated instead.
Graffiti on the Highway 1 Bridge that spans the Altamaha. I love graffiti.
Spanish moss-draped post oaks. This is an unusual combination of species. Post oaks grow on dry upland sites; Spanish moss prefers warm moist lowland sites. However at this site, they co-occur and dominate.
This is how I imagine a common Pleistocene landscape in Georgia might appear, but with taller grass and populated with bison and horses.
The Altamaha River. This bend of the river almost looks like a lake.
A scary steep bluff. Almost looked like a cliff from here.
Here’s proof that a kind of grape other than muscadine grows in south Georgia. I think this is a River Grape which produces small blue fruit.