Land Stewardship

The Story of Our Land

  1. Our Roots
  2. Settlers
  3. Athens Today & Tomorrow

view of athens from Carrs Hill ca. 1840

The earliest record of land management in Athens-Clarke County came way before our town or university was ever chartered. Native Americans lived on and managed the area around the Oconee River, and helped the land to prosper. 

Land in Athens-Clarke County has transformed dramatically since the time the Creek and Cherokee people managed the land. In Pre-Colonial northern Georgia, native Piedmont Prairies were common landscapes. These prairies are similar to Midwestern prairies in that they are wide expanses of native flora that are more sparse than the typical Georgian forests that exist today. The forests of the time were also vastly different than what the modern Georgian experiences. Rather than a predominantly oak-hickory hardwood or pine-based forest, the American Chestnut--a tree in the beech family--dominated the hardwood tree population in the Eastern United States. Unlike today, the forests were not as densely shaded and covered by plants, thanks to large-hoofed grazers like bison and deer that helped to maintain an expansive prairie system and the native species of grasses and flowers found there. 

In addition to the native flora and fauna of the region, local Native Americans also managed the forest and prairie land themselves with prescribed fires. These fires helped keep land more easily accessible for game, while also improving visibility for hunting and foraging. Early European settlers learned and adapted these land management techniques from the Native Americans in the area.

Piedmont prairies also vary from midwestern prairies because of the number of streams, rivers, and springs that naturally divide the land. Rather than the seemingly endless expanses of open prairie, Piedmont prairies were more naturally divided by water sources, which served as natural fire barriers. It is because of the high accessibility to water that settlers would come to what is now Athens-Clarke County to build a settlement. 

Map of Georgia and S Carolina - 1769