Monday, May 26, 2003

Deal will save old-growth forest

Athens to buy 106-acre tract

The Associated Press

ATHENS, Ohio - A 106-acre tract of old-growth forest has been saved from loggers' chain saws by environmentalists who persuaded the city to buy the land.

Dale W. Riddle Forest Products of Laurelville agreed to sell Hawk Woods with its 200-year-old trees for $550,000, about $80,000 below its market value, according to a just-completed appraisal.

The company bought Hawk Woods from private owners in February to log the property.

Company Vice President Dick Harwood said he saw the deal as "a chance for us and the environmentalists to maybe work together a little bit. We didn't get into this business because we hate trees."

To secure a purchase option, backers of the deal must come up with $50,000 by June 1. Last week, the Nature Conservancy raised more than $10,000 and the Athens Foundation agreed to provide a $10,000 grant.

On Wednesday, Mayor Ric Abel said the Community Improvement Corp., a local nonprofit focused on economic development, agreed to lend the city the balance of down payment if fund-raising efforts fall short at the deadline.

Once they raise the nonrefundable deposit, members of the Athens Nature Conservancy and Ohio Appalachian Alliance say they are optimistic they can get the rest of the money from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund.

The bond-backed state program for open spaces and industrial-site cleanups still has about $700,000 of unspent grant funds for the budget year ending June 30.

Officials expect to learn whether they will get the state grant by July, Abel said.

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