An agreement to allow Phinizy Swamp Nature Park to expand its boardwalks and education programs into the adjacent Phinizy Swamp Wildlife Management Area is under review by Georgia's Department of Natural Resources.
The 1,100-acre nature park is managed by the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy - a non-profit educational group. The 1,500-acre WMA, owned by Georgia's Department of Transportation, is managed by DNR for public hunting.
Vic VanSant, a DNR wildlife biologist, said the proposed memorandum of agreement would have no impacts on current uses of the WMA, which ranks among Georgia's best public waterfowl hunting venues.
"It allows them to have educational structures there, but it doesn't preclude other uses already agreed to between us and DOT," VanSant said.
The nature park uses outdoor classrooms and boardwalks to teach children about the outdoors. More than 5,300 visitors toured the area last year, with this year's totals expected to exceed 8,000.
VanSant said the agreement, to be ratified later this year, would allow the installation of observation decks and parking areas that also would benefit the public.
Jackie Maryak, the academy's executive director, said the request to become involved with the WMA is part of a broader effort to devise a master plan for the entire Phinizy Swamp ecosystem.
In addition to the WMA and the nature park, Merry Properties owns more than 3,100 acres of swamps and ponds created by strip mining. The city of Augusta's wastewater plant also is in the area, as is Augusta Regional Airport.
"There are so many people who want to use the swamp in one way or another," she said. A master plan for the entire area could help identify the best ways for the swamp to survive among many conflicting demands.
Such a study has been estimated at $56,000 for a scaled-down version, and as much as $174,000 for a full study that also would be useful in evaluating any planned expansions of the airport, she said.