Public access to Bartow’s 14,000-acre ‘Yellowstone’ coming to an end

Negotiations continue for the state to buy privately-owned Pine Log WMA

Credit: Georgia Department of Economic Development

Credit: Georgia Department of Economic Development

For now, the only living things allowed to visit a massive wildlife area northwest of Atlanta will be deer, turkeys, bears and trout — in addition to the family who owns the land.

Public access to the Pine Log Wildlife Management Area in Bartow County ended Thursday amid development and sale negotiations by the family who has owned the 14,000-acre plot for nearly a century. The Department of Natural Resources has leased the land for the past 46 years and is negotiating to buy the property, but those discussions have languished for months.

Since May 15, public access has been limited only to Pine Log’s main entrance off Stamp Creek Road northeast of Cartersville, but the main entrance will be locked by this morning, a DNR spokesperson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In response to the drawn-out state negotiations, the Neel family is hedging their bets by pursuing a back-up development plan that would transform the untamed wild into thousands of housing units and expansive swaths of industry over the next 20 years.

Bartow County’s sole commissioner, Steve Taylor, rezoned the land in April after hearing hours of critical comments from residents who worry development will change their county’s character and destroy prime hunting, fishing and hiking land.

Discussions around the property, which is about 55 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, have centered around the public want to preserve their “Yellowstone” versus the property owners’ right to do what they wish with their swath of land. A petition to “Save Pine Log” has amassed more than 13,000 signatures.

The Neel family accumulated more than 19,500 acres in Bartow and Cherokee counties over the past century. Their representative, Jim Ramseur, previously told the AJC the family decided to sell because of the area’s rapid growth, which includes multibillion-dollar solar panel and electric vehicle battery plant announcements.

Ramseur said the family expects hundreds of millions of dollars for the land. Bartow County also recently committed $5 million to help the state buy the property, according to the Cartersville-based Daily Tribune News.

The DNR told the AJC it’s “investigating all opportunities to provide public recreational access on this property into the future,” adding that the agency has extended three written purchase offers since negotiations began last summer.

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

If the 20-year development plan comes to fruition, at least 5,000 acres of greenspace will be preserved, but it’s not guaranteed that land will remain open to the public. Instead, it could be included within private developments, which as currently proposed include 5,000 acres of single-family homes, 1,000 acres of high-density housing, 400 acres of commercial space, 1,600 acres of industrial space and a 3,500-acre mineral reserve area — only 500 acres of which can be used for actual mining activity.

The development plan, which was first outlined in a Development of Regional Impact filing in March, prompted a new overlay zoning district to be created. The project’s details have been adjusted to take into account community feedback, such as reducing the number of proposed residences, cutting the planned commercial space in half and removing a proposal for a debris recycling facility.

Ramseur previously said the state has presented four options to buy most of the Neels’ land, with proposals varying from 10,700 to 16,000 acres. He estimated in March it would take until the end of 2023 to finalize a deal.

“I wish that process was a 30- or 60-day process, but it’s a lengthy, tedious process,” he said.

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