A swelling population has transformed Columbia County from agricultural to suburban, but there are still places where signs of civilization are far away.
Just west of Appling and north of Interstate 20, down a series of rutted dirt roads, there is a hill that stands near the center of the more than 1,600 acres named Belmont. Keith Pollard’s family has owned the site for generations.
There’s a homestead, long collapsed around its foundations, and stands of mature pines. Pollard said he remembers the place before the forest encroached on pastures that once allowed an unfettered view to the horizons.
Today, this spot is the most remote point in Columbia County, according to county GIS records.
From the center of the property, it is more than a mile to the nearest road or permanent structure.
Portions of the property have been harvested for timber and a hunting club has leased the land for more than 20 years. According to county records, it is the largest parcel of privately held property in Columbia County.
Passing a clearing in the midst of an otherwise thick pine forest, Pollard explained that some trees had been cut and burned because of a pine beetle infestation.
Pollard said while many associate land management with leisurely hikes through the hills, ensuring that it is healthy is a complex undertaking.
“We had to clear the trees, because those bugs can quickly spread,” he said. “And twice in my life there have been wildfires out here from lightning strikes.”
Across the bottom where Kiokee Creek flows, 800 acres of pine have been harvested and, over the next 20 years or so, it will be developed into a sustainable program that harvests in 100-acre allotments.
“It does look a little like an atom bomb went off here,” he said. And while he gets a little melancholy when talking about the forest that once stood here, he also believes he’s setting up a system that will contribute to the continued health of the property.
“The dynamic of nature means that things will always change,” he said. When I was young, for instance, there were no deer here. You never heard about wild hogs. I mean, a 100-year rain can completely change the way a creek runs. Everything out here is always changing.”
Pollard once thought those changes would include residential development similar to the sort much of Columbia County has seen.
“But that’s when I was in my 20s,” he said. “Now I think it’s something my son will have to worry about. I still think it’s coming – just not in my lifetime.”