According to Brandi Berry, spokeswoman for Fernbank Museum, the lease was originally established by the first Trustees of Fernbank, Inc. — a nonprofit formed to preserve the forest in 1938 — stated that the terms were renewable in eight-year increments, not lasting more than 48 years.
Control of the forest will revert back to Fernbank, which will take over the maintenance and upkeep.
“We’re not some corporation looking to take over the forest,” said Berry. “We’re a nonprofit that’s here for education and conservation.”
Berry said the forest needs a lot of work, as there are areas that are overrun by invasive species and an insect infestation. Fernbank Museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary in October and Berry said taking control of the forest this year is part of their master plan.
That plan, which should be complete by the end of the year, will be a full scientific assessment of the forest and will give Fernbank the tools needed to move forward with the forest and keep it around for many generations to come.
“I won’t know how long it will actually take to implement the elements of the plan until we’re done with it,” said Berry.
The school district will continue to operate the Fernbank Science Center, which the district has provided as a learning experience for DeKalb County students and the public since 1967, according to a news release.
“Many DeKalb students have enjoyed memorable learning experiences during our long relationship with Fernbank Forest,” said Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District.
“The school district will continue to provide hands-on, exploratory experiences for students at the Fernbank Science Center. We will be working with our partners in the community to ensure that all of our students have unique opportunities to learn about science and nature.”
Berry said this should help the school district eliminate the costs associated with maintaining the forest from its budget.
“Everyone’s budgets are being squeezed right now, and taxpayers are looking for ways to trim where their money is being spent,” said Berry. “So according to figures from DeKalb County Schools, this will free up $250,000 a year that can be applied directly toward all DeKalb County students.”