Officials are asking for the public's help to lead tours at a Columbia County biological treasure.
Heggie's Rock Preserve, an outcropping of granite containing a diverse sampling of endangered plants, insects and arachnids off Louisville Road in Appling, has been a school field-trip staple for many years.
It also is a natural laboratory to study the adaptation of plant life to an environment with no soil to root, exposure to downpours and searing heat, says The Nature Conservancy, the nonprofit environmental group that owns and maintains the preserve.
"Volunteers will learn how to follow the trail so as to minimize impact," said Judy Gordon, a professor of biology at Augusta State University who will lead the training. "They will learn about the cultural and natural history (of the preserve). They will stress ecological significance and point out geological and floral aspects to trip attendees."
Barry Smith, the county's director of community and leisure services, said, "Our intent is to develop a brochure with all the genus and species and pictures of the plants" and to create maps for guests of the preserve's flora using GPS mapping.
To protect green space in Columbia County, commissioners approved the purchase earlier this year of 140 acres of land containing wetlands and additional granite outcroppings to buffer the preserve from future development.
That parcel was put into a land trust for preservation and is maintained by The Nature Conservancy, Smith said.
"It's kind of an agreement of reciprocity to where we both can have access to the whole preserve now that it is much larger," Smith said. "They are basically the stewards of our property."
Smith said that as part of the land trust agreement, The Nature Conservancy is required to provide tours and train tour guides.
"We want folks who are interested in the environment" to lead tours, Smith said. "We'd like folks that are science-oriented, whether it's botany, horticulture or whether it's entomology."
Smith said he has retired teachers, professors and soil scientists in mind.
Gordon said she is looking to train between 10 and 12 tour guides to lead scheduled groups of eight to 10.
Community and leisure services and The Nature Conservancy will offer the first training course Dec. 13 with a required second course following in the spring.
Those interested in being guides must contact community and leisure services before Dec. 13 at 868-3484, Smith said.
Free tours of Heggie's Rock may be arranged through community and leisure services.
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