I work at a Nature Center that was started in the early 1970s as a way to preserve greenspace in a developing community, to provide a place for people to learn and enjoy our natural resources. The city of Athens began in 1806, although the University of Georgia was chartered here in the 1780s. With such a long past, we must expect our site to have a little baggage. As a nature center, our focus is on the environment but it is hard to ignore the scars of past land uses.
Evidence is hiding all around our property, peeking out and exposing its tattered past. Scattered brick from the old brickyard emerge from the ground. Piles of tires, broken glass and haunting children’s toys are discarded relics when our country road sides became dumps. Faint traces of farming remain like terraces and barbed wire piercing the middle of a tree.
Although we are a nature center, it is important to look to the past and interpret the history of our land. I walked by a small hill on our property for 12 years before learning that it wasn’t a natural hill. It was formed when clay dredged from the pit was piled to dry before being formed into bricks. The brick factory created a clay pit that has now turned into a large pond. It makes a wonderful wetland full of fish, turtles, birds and beavers. Using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology, we can see where soil was dug out for fill dirt when the highway was built, where old fence lines and road beds were. These remnants of the past have formed the landscape that we now protect.
The next time you are walking your natural site, stop and look around. Look for the scars that are hidden beneath the ground and out of the trees. What has your land been through in the past?
Author’s note: This post is written to those that work at sites that focus on nature. If you are a historical interpreter, you already know where those scars are. Take time to look and enjoy how nature has evolved and changed your landscape.