Brown's Mount Association

Timbering articles in
 Macon Telegraph 1-19-08

Local environmentalist John Wilson shows where the site of an earth lodge is believed to have been damaged by logging at Brown's Mount. page-1A.

Posted on Sat, Jan. 19, 2008

Ancient earth lodge on Brown's Mount likely harmed by logging

By S. Heather Duncan -

The top of Brown's Mount, thigh-deep in wood chips and strewn with treetops, doesn't look much like an archaeological site. It doesn't even look much like a park.

It looks like a logging site, because it is.

Late last summer, state officials hired loggers to remove beetle-infested pines from Brown's Mount, whose unusual rocky summit overlooks Bond Swamp outside Macon. But state archaeologists say it appears that loggers placed their loading deck on an ancient earth lodge that dates from the same period as the earthen mounds at the Ocmulgee National Monument. The remains of the lodge, dating to around 980 A.D., may have been harmed, state archaeologist David Crass said.

"It's a mess up there," said Stephen Hammack, secretary of the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society. "Correct procedures were not followed, and a very important archaeological site could have been damaged, possibly irreparably."

Although the logging happened in late July or early August, no one realized its impact until local environmentalist John Wilson led the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society there on a hike earlier this month. He was trying to point out the remains of an ancient wall when he saw trees toppled into the trail.

Horrified, Wilson called the timber cut "pure idiocy" for destroying the shade trees at a recreation area and for its apparent damage to the remains of the lodge.

Despite being owned by the state, Brown's Mount has not been open to the public since the Museum of Arts and Sciences stopped conducting tours there about a year and a half ago. Wilson and others say greater public access could have prevented what happened.


No one with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Brown's Mount, knows the exact location of the archaeological sites, said Carolyn Johnson, deputy project leader for the Piedmont and Bond Swamp national wildlife refuges. Bond Swamp and Brown's Mount are managed from Piedmont in Jones and Jasper counties. She said the service had consulted the state Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Division, which didn't know either.

But Crass said the division did know the locations, and maps of them are part of a study from the 1990s that is available online. However, his division was not consulted by DNR forestry officials who arranged the timber cut, Crass said.

"It was a known archaeological site," he said. "If our internal consultation had worked properly, we'd have flagged it."

Some of the area was excavated in the 1930s by the same group that excavated the mounds at what is now the Ocmulgee National Monument. Additional excavations came in 1959 and the 1990s, according to Crass and historical documents.

Sylvia Flowers, retired master ranger at the monument and one of the founders of the Brown's Mount Association, said the entire top of the mountain may be peppered with the remains of early human settlements. Flowers and Hammack expressed concern that the logging operation may have unearthed artifacts that will attract looters, especially since the area is closed to the public.

Johnson said it will be opened to the public during daylight hours in about a month.

The mountain is part of the Traditional Cultural Property of the Creek Indians, whose ancestors are believed to be the Mississippian culture that built the mounds. (There is also a small mound atop Brown's Mount.)

Federal law requires that certain activities affecting cultural remains within the Traditional Cultural Property require consultation with the tribes, although Johnson said no communication was required with the Creeks before logging.

Ron Cleghorn, a member of the Muscogee Creek Tribal Council, expressed concern about possible damage at Brown's Mount. "We're not going away," he said of the tribe based in Okmulgee, Okla. "Since that is our ancestral homeland, we will monitor the situation."


When a Southern pine beetle infestation was spotted, DNR forestry officials conferred with the wildlife service about the 26-acre cut and asked whether any areas should be avoided, Johnson said. She said service officials mentioned only the remains of a house there.

Normally a timber harvest on a state-owned wildlife management area would have to fit the area's 50-year plan and would be evaluated by wildlife officials as well as the state archaeologist, said Mark Whitney, DNR game management chief. But "salvage operations" of trees harmed by storms or insects must move faster and don't have the same requirements.

"This brought to light that we need to change that," Whitney said. "If anybody feels badly about that, we feel badly about that. But hopefully it won't occur again."

The pine beetle threat was more dire than usual last summer because of the drought, Johnson said. Plus, dead pines would have been a fire hazard. In 2005, trespassers on Brown's Mount started an accidental fire with a cigarette. It was difficult to put out because it's impossible to get bulldozers on the mountain to create firebreaks, she said.

On a trip to the top last week, wide corridors created by log skidders were visible. Some hardwood trees had been left, and standing trees seem to have suffered little damage.

Some of the most popular areas of Brown's Mount remain untouched by the timber cut, including the limestone cliffs where white lilies grow in the spring, a popular picnic spot since the Victorian age. The mossy cliffs drop dozens of feet down to open, rolling forest. From some lookout points, Bond Swamp stretches blue and flat to the horizon.

Johnson said the loggers did a good job. "The staging pad was on an existing road intersection," she said.

But Crass sent a staff archaeologist to check the site last week after he was notified about the cut by Hammack and Whitney, and it appears that the staging pad was over the earth lodge. The lodge was mostly invisible above ground, except for excavation trenches around it. It had a fire pit and an extended entranceway like the one at Ocmulgee National Monument, Flowers said.

Crass is consulting with the wildlife service's regional archaeologist and others within DNR on how to further assess the damage before more steps are taken.

Hammack said the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society could provide a surface assessment by setting up a grid and combing the area for artifacts. Society members who hiked there a few weeks ago found pottery and chips from spear points.

State and federal officials agree that the area eventually needs to be cleaned up. The remaining tree tops and cut trees rejected by the loggers could be chipped or burned, depending on what would cause the least damage to the archaeological remains.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.


The Peyton Anderson Foundation and several other private trusts bought Brown's Mount from a private owner in 1993 and gave it to the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which managed it and conducted monthly tours there during the warm months but did not open it to the public daily. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources bought it and turned over management to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Carolyn Johnson, deputy project leader for Piedmont and Bond Swamp national wildlife refuges, said, ‘‘The (Fish and Wildlife) service manages everything at Brown's Mount but the ‘commodity resources,’ ’’ which in this case means trees. The state DNR is the only agency that can cut the timber there, and it is the agency that arranged for logging at Brown's Mount in response to a pine beetle infestation.

Brown's Mount website:


Sylvia Flowers, a former master ranger at the Ocmulgee National Monument, stands atop a rock outcropping along the spine of Browns Mount near Macon. Flowers and others contend that recent logging on Browns Mount improperly damaged archaeological sites there.

Posted on Sat, Jan. 19, 2008

Supporters say 'absentee management' taking a toll on Brown's Mount

By S. Heather Duncan -

Some Brown's Mount supporters question whether state and federal wildlife agencies are motivated to be good stewards of Brown's Mount, an area near Macon long renowned for its natural beauty and prehistoric significance.

Their concerns were heightened after a recent logging operation, arranged by the state, which appears to have damaged an archaeological site there. Officials making decisions about the recreation area, which is now closed to the public, didn't know where the archaeological sites were located.

"The agencies in charge should have learned the value of what they are in charge of protecting," environmental activist John Wilson wrote in an e-mail to Brown's Mount supporters. "If they do not know where the individual sites are by now, then they have no interest in presenting the cultural significance of the mount."

"It troubles me that DNR is not in tune with the significance of that mountain," said Brian Adams, a Macon attorney and member of the Brown's Mount Association. "I would prefer that the city and local entities get more involved and utilize that asset to this community."

About 165 acres of Brown's Mount were purchased in 1993 from retired farmer Myrtle Simmons using foundation grants. The Brown's Mount Association, now largely defunct, had campaigned for its preservation and built trails around the summit.

Some association members say no agency seems to want responsibility for Brown's Mount, located off Ocmulgee East Boulevard. For a while, the Museum of Arts and Sciences owned it. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources bought it using tax-free bonds, intending to pass it along to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but state financing rules forbade that because it would make the bonds taxable.

The service agreed to manage it without owning it, but the agency can't spend much money on it with no long-term lease, said Carolyn Johnson, deputy project leader for Piedmont and Bond Swamp national wildlife refuges. Brown's Mount is managed as part of adjacent Bond Swamp. All the staff to handle both are located at the Piedmont refuge in Jones and Monroe counties.

"Brown's Mount should not suffer from the absentee management of the Piedmont (refuge) some forty miles away," Wilson wrote.

He contends that Brown's Mount should instead be part of the nearby Ocmulgee National Monument, since both were the locations of Mississippian settlements that left behind spear points, pottery shards and other artifacts.

Jim David, superintendent of the monument, said this possibility hasn't been discussed recently. He said federal regulations make it much easier for the DNR or the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand their boundaries than for the monument to do so.

David noted that there has always been speculation that ancient settlements at Brown's Mount and the monument's Great Temple Mound communicated with each other visually over long distances using reflective minerals such as mica.

"I hope the cultural resources are not being destroyed on Brown's Mount," David said.

Stephen Hammack, a professional archaeologist and secretary of the Ocmulgee Archaeological Society, shares this concern. "We've got way too much of this going on in Middle Georgia," he said, citing looting at archaeological sites and the relocating of historic cemeteries.

"I'm starting to really feel that maybe we need a regional preservation plan for sites and cemeteries in Middle Georgia," he said.

The Ocmulgee Archaeological Society has offered to document sites. The group first noticed the impact of the Brown's Mount logging when visiting the mountain because of its interest in finding an ancient 5-foot-thick wall that once encircled the summit.

Hammack, Wilson and Sylvia Flowers, a retired master ranger, said greater public access to Brown's Mount might actually prevent both damage and looting there. Wilson said the last public access available, several years ago through the Museum of Arts and Sciences, included only once-a-month guided hikes.

Johnson said Brown's Mount probably will be opened to the public within a month or so. The service had originally planned to open it last spring, but Piedmont workers got behind on repairs and then the pine beetles hit.

Johnson said it's not unusual for the Fish and Wildlife Service to manage property from a distance, especially as staff cuts target the nation's network of wildlife refuges. The Piedmont refuge now manages three areas, including Brown's Mount and Bond Swamp.

Piedmont has recently lost three staff positions through attrition and must lay off two more staff workers, including the only employee whose job title specifically mentioned duties outside Piedmont (at Bond Swamp), Johnson said.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.


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