UGA moves closer to sale of Lake Blackshear property

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Sep. 18—ATHENS — The University of Georgia is moving closer to finalizing a sale of property on Lake Blackshear in south Georgia.

The 2,500-acre lakefront parcel was donated to the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources by Charles Wheatley in 1989. UGA is now working with Forest Resource Consultants to sell the entire parcel, as changing market forces and unsolicited inquiries revealed selling the entire property would be the best option for the school.

The selection of the Macon-based forestland brokerage firm comes after a request for proposals drew interest from nearly two dozen real estate firms.

"We have been evaluating ways to increase sustainable annual income from properties we hold, and on the Wheatley property we explored the potential of selling the acreage adjacent to the lake while continuing to manage the remainder of the property as a working forest," Dale Greene, dean of the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said. "But given the recent changes in the market, we have determined a complete sale of the property is the best action to provide the greatest benefit to the Warnell school."

When Wheatley donated the land to Warnell, his only stipulation was that the school use the land "as it deems best" for its benefit. The school has successfully harvested timber from the land for decades, although the portion of the property closest to the lake was less productive.

During the past year, Warnell and the UGA Foundation, which now holds the property, had been working with consultants to fully understand lakefront development potential. But throughout the process, UGA officials continued to hear from interested parties that the land might be more valuable if left intact.

Greene said the school plans to have the property listed for sale in September.

In the time Warnell has managed the land, it has invested more than $1.3 million in reforestation and forest management, such as controlling invasive species. Over this same time period, revenue from timber sales and other investment earnings have yielded a net return of $8.2 million. These funds, made possible through the gift of the land by Wheatley, have supported dozens of graduate students at Warnell and provided funding for the Wheatley Distinguished Professorship in Forest Health.

Wheatley was a successful construction business owner who built a modest home on the property, where he entertained friends and guests. A major focal point of the property was its natural surroundings, and Warnell has embraced this as it worked to improve timber yields and continued to offer hunting leases on the property.

"Through the years, we have assessed best management practices while also weighing opportunities to support our mission as a leader in teaching forestry and natural resources," Greene said. "We remain grateful for Mr. Wheatley's investment and the transformative effect that his gift will continue to have on the future of Warnell."