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Part of historic rice plantation being closed
LeConte-Woodmanston is near Riceboro
A foot bridge crosses one of the canals on a nature trail at LeConte-Woodmanston - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon
Citing a lack of funds and an opportunity to re-evaluate its sustainability, portions of the LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation are being closed until further notice.
According to Mary Beth Evans, executive vice president of the LeConte-Woodmanston Foundation, the site which encompasses the Botanical Gardens, re-created slave cabin and the hunting lodge will be closed off with gates and signs while the board searches for sources of funding to enable the foundation to hire fulltime, paid staff and create a sustainable future.
“We are really taking a step back. We wanted to look at grant writing and see what types of funding sources are out there,” Jennifer Buehler, site development director and a member of the board said. “As far as grants we are looking at those which would provide operational funding as well as grants that would help show our sustainability. We also want to focus on fundraisers for the Memorial-Walkway.”
Evans said they’ve been grateful for the efforts by hundreds of volunteers who have given their time in piecing together, The Walk at LeConte-Woodmanston: An African-American Tribute.
But she said it is difficult to keep the number of volunteers, especially during the summer, needed to keep the walkway and gardens constantly “visitor ready.”
Evans said it also gives them an opportunity to revisit the master plan.
“What we are trying to do is to preserve what’s here, the beauty of the place, the spirituality and the history,” she said. “We basically came along in 2007 and said we are going to put in this memorial walkway, expand the gardens and basically preserve the beauty of the place. But we never really got that in writing. We have no master plan per se. We need to step back and get help in reconstructing that master plan that includes sustainability. Back in 1982 the Garden Club of Georgia bought into the idea that reconstructing the rice plantation was a sustainable plan even though they were advised against it by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Historical Preservation Society. Here we are 30 years later and still no rice plantation. What I see is that, as we develop this and get help from the DNR, we run this by a lot of people and ask them ‘do you see this project as being sustainable?’”
“I want to try and identify who our core audience is going to be,” Buehler said. “Is it historians, is it people interested in botany and gardening and things like that? We want to identify that and then be able to market ourselves to those people. I also want to reach out to some of the university’s around here.”
Buehler said it could provide an opportunity for students to do an internship and help in cataloging their native plants and wildlife.  
“For the last two years it has been under a constant state of construction,” Evans said about the garden and walkway area. “It really hasn’t been at its best for showing.”
Evans said it was disappointing to have to close the section, but hopes it will be only for a short time. In the meantime, she said, keeping that section closed will benefit the camellias recently transplanted there.
LeConte’s Botanical Garden is part of the American Camellia Trail Foundation and the LeConte Foundation plans to plant nearly 600 registered Georgia cultivars of camellias.
But Evans wants the community to know there is still plenty to see as many sections of the 64 acre site will remain open.
“The nature area will still be open from dawn to dusk for birders, historians or naturalists,” she said. “We have the Coastal Georgia Greenway picnic grove/trailhead at the front of the site and that is handicap accessible. People will still be able to come down and fish at flood gate.”
The nature area includes paths through the dike system put in place by John Eatton LeConte in 1760 when the family developed the inland swamp rice plantation. Visitors can still walk the path and view the wood flood gates used to control the water flow to the rice fields.
“This is where people can walk and feel what took place and what happened here and how things were done back then,” Evans said.
Evans said tours cane be arranged through the garden for groups of six or more.
“We will still provide for private tours in fact we already have a few garden club tours scheduled,” Evans said.
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