UGA Joins Partnership to Drive Compatible Economic Development Around Fort Benning

The undeveloped military buffer zone has potential for recreation and economic development

The University of Georgia is part of an innovative project that will create recreational areas along the 35,000 acres surrounding Fort Benning, an attempt to stimulate development in the seven counties that border the military site.

UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the Regional River Valley Commission and The Nature Conservancy are partnering with Fort Benning on the project.

Spread across six Georgia counties (Harris, Talbot, Taylor, Marion, Stewart, and Chattahoochee) as well as one county in Alabama (Russell), the undeveloped land serves as a military-compatible use buffer for Fort Benning. , providing the base with a natural barrier to prevent training and testing from interfering with surrounding communities.

While the needs of the military dictate that the terrain remains underdeveloped, it still offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation and the economic industries that go with it, said Scott Pippin, a public service associate at Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Link missions and objectives

“The military has its mission and its objectives, and those are the engines of that,” Pippin said. “We try to relate them to the missions, goals, ideas and visions of the communities. … What can we do to go beyond simple conservation and make it a community and economic development project? “

Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the goal of this collaborative partnership is to work with surrounding communities and help develop a cohesive plan to develop, promote and better utilize outdoor activities in the region, such as hiking, rafting and hunting.

Professors at the Institute of Government will follow the plan they used to develop community park downtowns while guiding community leaders and residents to prioritize and plan for the best way to use the property. Fort Benning.

“This type of project is exactly what the University of Georgia, through its land granting mission, is designed to do,” Jennifer Frum, UGA Public Service and Outreach vice president, said at the announcement of the collaboration. “This is an extremely talented team at the Vinson Institute who will help you go through a process that will result in real and achievable steps. I am convinced that these measures will have a lasting economic impact. “

Identify needs and opportunities

The partnership started in 2020 and is expected to continue over the next two years. Small working groups of regional leaders will be formed to help engage their communities and identify common needs, issues, strengths and opportunities. Representatives from Fort Benning, led by Garrison Commander Col. Alexis Rivera, will be closely involved throughout the project, but will not guide community discussions.

“There are many resources and opportunities that one community might not even realize that another community has,” said Brent Widener, support division chief in the environmental division at Fort Benning. “A shared and common understanding of what resources are and what is available is an important part of this. We need to be open and receptive to other development opportunities and work strategically on how we can place them in the landscape if they are not fully compatible with the military mission. I think we all have to go into it with a totally open mind and let these local communities share with us what they see and think and work to find common ground. “

In addition to economic development opportunities, the thousands of acres of natural land represent a potentially significant conservation opportunity. This aspect of the partnership is led by The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit environmental organization that works to protect land and water.

A unique territory

“It’s a unique part of the state because it’s on the fall line,” said Deron Davis, Georgia executive director of The Nature Conservancy and chairman of the Army Compatible Use Buffer advisory board. “What you find is a really complicated soil structure. You find soils that resemble the beach, but you also find soils that resemble Piedmont or in rare cases mountain. The appearance of the soil dictates the appearance of plants, and the appearance of plants dictates the appearance of animals. So by having a relatively small geographic area with a mixture of soils so close together, you get almost anomalous things. The complexity and variety is what makes this area unique.

Davis’s hope, and that of the partnership, is for the community to work collectively to develop the area, in the same way that nearby Columbus adopted and used the Chattahoochee River.

If the project develops as hoped, it could serve as a proof of concept for the Vinson Institute, potentially creating a guideline for future similar projects with military installations.

“Fort Benning isn’t the only one that needs to do this kind of work,” Pippin said. “All facilities in Georgia and across the country face the same issues, so this is a really innovative project. The Defense Ministry recognized this and said it was an innovative thing they needed to see more of. So it’s really a pilot project for everyone to do something different.

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